Cardinal Bernard Law, the figure at the centre of renewed anger over abuse by Catholic priests in the Boston area, was making an unexpected visit to the Vatican today.
He has been authorised to file for bankruptcy on behalf of his archdiocese in response to a flood of lawsuits related to the abuse, but would need the Vatican’s permission before doing so.
A spokeswoman in Boston yesterday refused to discuss the purpose of the Cardinal’s trip.
Meanwhile, about 400 people protested yesterday outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the cathedral where Law typically celebrates Mass.
It was fuelled by last week’s release of new internal church documents containing some of the most spectacular allegations yet, suggesting church officials tolerated a wide range of clergy misconduct, and not just the sexual abuse of boys.
“His presence here is hindering the ability of the victims to come out. He is the real voice of dissent here. He is the one flouting Catholic teachings time and again,” said Jean Garrity, 43, a member of the dissident group Voice of the Faithful.
The latest personnel papers, part of a huge collection of church files that victims’ lawyers pried from the archdiocese, document a priest beating his housekeeper and threatening alleged sex abuse victims, another trading cocaine for sex, and a third claiming to be the second coming of Christ in order to entice teenagers training to be nuns into having sex.
Later in the week, other papers disclosed that a priest fathered at least two children, and apparently failed immediately to get medical help for the mother of their children when she overdosed.
Law has brushed off calls for his resignation for months, but for the first time he now faces the same request from priests.
Boston-area priests have been circulating a draft statement calling for Law’s resignation. The petition praises Law for his leadership, but says the release of damaging internal church files makes his resignation “a necessary step”.
“Events of recent months and, in particular, of these last few days, make it clear to us that your position as our bishop is so compromised that it is no longer possible for you to exercise the spiritual leadership required for the church of Boston,” the petition reads.
Amid the latest reports, a financial advisory panel gave Law authority on Wednesday to seek a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing for the archdiocese – a move that may prove financially necessary but would infuriate abuse victims seeking damages.