CARDINAL LAW, A “LIFE OF LIGHTS AND SHADOWS”
This afternoon I attended the funeral Mass for Cardinal Bernard Law, 86, who died early Wednesday morning. As is Vatican tradition for cardinals who reside in Rome, Mass was celebrated at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, presided at the Mass, concelebrated with other members of the College of Cardinals and a number of archbishops.
Members of the diplomatic corps were also in attendance, including U.S. ambassador-designate Callista Gingrich who will present her Letters of Credence to Pope Francis tomorrow morning, She was accompanied by her husband, former Speaker Newt Gingrich.
After the Eucharistic celebration, Pope Francis entered St. Peter’s through the diplomatic entrance to the church, just opposite the Santa Marta residence, and presided over the rite of Final Commendation and the Valediction, as is usual at a funeral Mass for a cardinal. He did not pronounce any personal or prepared remarks.
Missalettes prepared by the Vatican assisted those present, including many priests and friends in the Roman Curia and others who lived in Rome, to follow the funeral rite.
Cardinal Law’s final resting place will be in St. Mary Major Basilica where he served many years as archpriest, resigning six years ago on his 80th birthday. It is customary for priests who served there to be buried there.
From CNA/EWTN News:
Cardinal Law died in Rome at the age of 86, after a brief hospitalization due to a congenital heart failure. Two weeks ago, he experienced a decline in health and was admitted to a clinic in Rome to monitor the problem. He had been unresponsive for several days before his death.
Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vt., who served as Law’s spokesman during the period before the cardinal’s resignation from Boston, said in a statement on his death that like each of us, Law’s days had their fair share of “light and shadows.”
“While I knew him to be a man of faith, a kind man and a good friend, I respect that some will feel otherwise, and so I especially ask them to join me in prayer and work for the healing and renewal of our Church,” he said.
“May Cardinal Law rest in peace. And in these days when, as Christians, we celebrate the Child who restored God’s goodness to our broken humanity, may we all recommit ourselves to making Christ’s Church a worthy, welcoming home for all, especially those most vulnerable and in need,” Coyne added.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and Law’s immediate successor, published a statement Dec. 20, offering his sincere apologies to anyone who has experienced the trauma of sexual abuse by clergy.
“As Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law served at a time when the Church failed seriously in its responsibilities to provide pastoral care for her people,” particularly children, he stated, noting his own work and the work of other priests and religious sisters of the Archdiocese to help bring healing to those most affected and the wider Catholic community.
The fact that Cardinal Law’s life and ministry, for many people, is identified with the crisis of sexual abuse by priests is a “sad reality,” he said, because his “pastoral legacy has many other dimensions.”
These include his involvement in the civil rights struggle in Mississippi in the early part of his priesthood, as well as his leadership in the ecumenical and interfaith movement following the Second Vatican Council. He was also well-known for his ministry to the sick, dying and bereaved, O’Malley recounted.
“In the Catholic tradition, the Mass of Christian Burial is the moment in which we all recognize our mortality, when we acknowledge that we all strive for holiness in a journey which can be marked by failures large and small,” he concluded.
“Cardinal Law will be buried in Rome where he completed his last assignment. I offer prayers for him and his loved ones as well as for all the people of the Archdiocese.”
A Dec. 20 statement by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoed O’Malley’s statement of condolence and prayers.
Expressing his closeness to survivors of sexual abuse, especially at this time, DiNardo prayed that they might find peace and strength.
He also commended their brave witness, which led to “a comprehensive response from the Church in the United States to protect and heal the deep wounds of abuse.”
On a personal note:
I have known Cardinal Law for at least 32 years, since the day he was made a cardinal in 1985 by Pope John Paul, who assigned him the titular church of Santa Susanna, home at that time for the Catholic American community in Rome. The cardinal was unable to take possession of the title of Santa Susanna until 1993 because the church was closed for years to repair the beautifully carved and gilt wood ceiling that, over the past 400 years, had simply worn out and was threatening to cave in. Work took far longer than anyone anticipated and we were the pilgrim church on earth for a good eight years.
I was a lector at many of the Masses that Cardinal Law celebrated at Santa Susanna and we also shared a number of meals over the years, breaking bread with friends, sharing stories of our lives in Rome, etc.
When news of the clergy sex abuse scandal began to seep out from Boston and then grew from a small wave to a tsunami, I, like millions, was devastated by what I heard and read. Things just seemed to get worse, priests from other dioceses were being accused, the number of victims was growing and then we learned – over time – that the same situation was being discovered in other countries, in seminaries, in places where the word ‘abuse’ should never have even been pronounced, much less actually happen!
I worked at the Vatican at the time and it seems we lived day to day, awaiting new revelations, papal reaction and action, action by the cardinals and other prelates of the Church in America. Those were very difficult months and years for every faithful Catholic. How on earth could this ever have happened!
I was fully aware of those early years in Boston – and then elsewhere. I was fully aware of the charges, the victims’ stories, the physical and spiritual anguish and damage, etc . My heart broke and still breaks when I hear such stories. I know that one bad priest is one too many!
I say “I was fully” aware – maybe I should say I was as fully aware as possible without being a victim.
I tried to place myself in their shoes and never fully succeeded, of course. Just as I have never succeeded in imagining what it would be like to lose everything I own in a fire or hurricane, to lose a limb in an accident, to have my whole family wiped out in a tragedy,
I followed everything for years, especially because I covered then, as I do now, the Church and the Vatican. And I have always followed the news of the
commission the Pope set up to combat sex abuse by clergy – or anyone
It is such a sorrowful fact that the Church even needs such a commission!
In the case of Cardinal Law, for all the very bad judgment he may have used – and bad advice he may have received and heeded – I cannot allow myself to be his judge. There is so much I do not know.
What I do know is how he was a friend to me and to many in Rome. I know
of some – but not all – of his many humanitarian works, his caring gestures for people in need, his efforts to be there for anyone who needed his time or advice or assistance. I know how he helped the pastor of Santa Susanna’s church – Cardinal Law’s titular church in Rome – when the Cistercian nuns closed the doors to our wonderful faith community, never again allowing us back in the church! He did all he could to help us find a new church – and to be close to our beloved pastor during those four years of exile (again!).
And, if you talk to the many people in Rome who knew him and to those who attended his funeral today, you will hear even more good stories – dare I say, heart-warming stories.
There was an enormous amount of good in Cardinal Law’s life – very hard to find in the media during his later life. It is truly amazing how many people do not know anything of Cardinal Law’s life other than the scandal.
As Cardinal O’Malley of Boston pointed out yesterday in The Pilot:
”It is a sad reality that for many Cardinal Law’s life and ministry is
identified with one overwhelming reality, the crisis of sexual abuse
by priests. This fact carries a note of sadness because his pastoral
legacy has many other dimensions. Early in his priesthood in
Mississippi Cardinal Law was deeply engaged in the civil rights
struggle in our country. Later, he served in the Archdiocese and
nationally as a leader in the ecumenical and interfaith movement
following the Second Vatican Council, developing strong collaborative
relationships with the Greek Orthodox and Jewish communities in
Boston. He was well known for visiting the sick, the dying and the
bereaved at all hours of the night and day, a ministry that extended
to the rich and poor, the young and elderly, and people of all faiths.
He also held the care for immigrants and their families in a special
place in his ministry.”
Reading those lines reminded me of the day years ago, after I had had serious surgery, that Cardinal Law came for a visit to the Pio XI clinic where I was a patient, accompanied by one of his good friends, the late Cardinal William Baum. The nuns were all aflutter because “two”, and they repeated it, “two cardinals” came calling on me. They thought I was important and had not told them (!). I assured them the important people in the room were the cardinals whose ministry it was to visit the sick! And without fanfare!
That is, by the way, the very same clinic in which Cardinal Law died yesterday.
As I write, I am trying to spend time remembering the good in a man’s life as everyone is already aware of the bad.
I must close with a request for prayers, prayers for the repose of the soul of Cardinal Bernard Law, for the Lord’s mercy to shine upon him and, most especially in this season when the Lord Jesus first appeared in our lives, prayers for the victims of abuse, for their families, for those whose hurt may never diminish.