VATICAN CITY – Two American women who say they were molested as children by Roman Catholic priests protested Monday at the Vatican, drawing worldwide attention to the clergy sex-abuse scandal and disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law as he led a Mass to mourn the death of Pope John Paul II.
Barbara Blaine and Barbara Dorris, two leaders of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, tried to pass out leaflets to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square before Law addressed several hundred people during the Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica.
A crush of reporters from around the world converged on the two women, preventing them from delivering many leaflets.
With cardinals no longer talking to the media and there being few other news developments, the reporters ensured that the women’s cause got global attention. At one point, the media crowd became so large that Italian and Vatican police pushed it to a nearby piazza.
Blaine and Dorris said they entered St. Peter’s Basilica as Law led the Mass but didn’t linger. There were no incidents during the Mass, which was attended by a crowd of pilgrims, priests and several dozen other cardinals, including Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia.
The survivors group’s outrage was directed at Law, who resigned from the Archdiocese of Boston in December 2002 over his actions involving predatory priests, including repeatedly reassigning them from parish to parish. Blaine called his actions in the Boston archdiocese “criminal behavior.”
Law never should have led Monday’s Mass, and the other American cardinals should have interceded to stop him, Blaine said. “We don’t believe it’s an appropriate time … to use the grieving in the Catholic Church to rehabilitate his image,” Blaine said.
Dorris, the group’s national victim-outreach coordinator, said Law’s featured role in the Mass was “a way of intimidating victims into silence.”
“It’s a slap in the face to victims who worked to have him removed and now he’s being honored in this way,” she said.
Law didn’t address the controversy in his homily, which was delivered in Italian. He focused on the relationship between the pontiff and Rome’s four major basilicas – St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Paul and St. Mary Major – and offered a tribute to Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the pope’s longtime personal assistant, on the feast of his namesake, Polish martyr St. Stanislaus.
Joe Maher, a Detroit-area businessman who founded a support group for accused priests called Opus Bono Sacerdotii, said Monday that Law had apologized more than two years ago for his actions and should be forgiven.
Maher noted that Law, the only American to lead one of the nine mourning Masses offered in the pope’s memory, was given the role in his capacity as archpriest of St. Mary Major, not to single him out for favor.
Last month, Blaine, 47, who’s now a Chicago lawyer, returned to her childhood parish of St. Pius in Toledo, Ohio, for a service in which the Toledo bishop apologized to her and another victim for the abuse they had suffered. Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair, a former Archdiocese of Detroit auxiliary bishop, spoke to Blaine, her mother and other relatives.
The protest in Rome was the first time the victims’ advocacy group has brought its appeal to the headquarters of the 1 billion-member Catholic Church.
Blaine and Dorris, 57, didn’t ask Law to remove himself from the secret conclave to select the pope, which begins Monday. Blaine said that if Law were to have any influence on the conclave, it should be to “help them in choosing a new pope who is extremely sensitive” to the aftereffects of the sex-abuse crisis.