Wednesday, December 20, 2017

In Law's Wake, A Strained Response

And in the end, the official silence throughout last night's emergence of the death of Cardinal Bernard Law was broken not in Boston, but Rome – first in a one-sentence announcement by the Holy See Press Office, then an equally brief tweet from the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, both of which appeared around 6am Italian time (Midnight ET).

While Roman Noon came and went without the release of the standard papal telegram on the death of every cardinal – and rumblings began to spread as to whether one would be released at all (which would've been a first) – Francis' note of condolence was published after 2pm at the Vatican, notably addressed not to the late prelate's successor in Boston, Cardinal Seán O'Malley, but the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano; a recipient normally employed in cases where the deceased prelate has no living relatives nor a clear successor in the major posts he held in life:
I have learned of the death of Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, Archpriest emeritus of the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major, and I wish to express my condolences to the College of Cardinals. I raise prayers for the repose of his soul, that the Lord, God who is rich in mercy, may welcome him in His eternal peace, and I send my apostolic blessing to those who share in mourning the passing of the cardinal, whom I entrust to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary Salus Populi Romani.

In addition to the telegram, the Press Office announced that Law's funeral Mass will take place at 3.30pm tomorrow.

Keeping to the routine protocol for a cardinal resident in Rome, as reported here in advance of the cardinal's death, the liturgy will indeed be at the Altar of the Chair in St Peter's (seen at top), with access to the basilica likely to be heavily restricted.

Per usual, Sodano will celebrate the Mass, while Francis will arrive at its close to perform the Final Commendation and Rite of Farewell (a prior instance above).

To be clear, the standard procedure does not foresee any words from the pontiff outside the ritual text, the same one used in every liturgy of Christian burial.

As previously relayed, Law will be entombed in the crypts beneath St Mary Major in light of his prior role as archpriest of the basilica, Christendom's oldest church dedicated to the Mother of God.

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At 6.15am Eastern, meanwhile, the foreseen major statement from O'Malley to the Boston church was released by the archdiocese's Chancery, which was moved to suburban Braintree (above) following the sale of the century-old compound on Commonwealth Avenue to Boston College in 2007 – a deal which funded the church's settlements and legal fees in the wake of the abuse storm.

Beyond having been saddled with the fallout of the scandals for the duration of his 14-year tenure in the Hub, to fully grasp the context, the cardinal's newer, secondary assignment likewise bears recalling – his late 2013 appointment by Francis as president of a Curial Commission for the Protection for Minors, which reports directly to the pontiff.

Here, O'Malley's full statement:
Cardinal Bernard F. Law, my predecessor as Archbishop of Boston, has passed away at the age of 86 following a prolonged illness.

I recognize that Cardinal Law’s passing brings forth a wide range of emotions on the part of many people. I am particularly cognizant of all who experienced the trauma of sexual abuse by clergy, whose lives were so seriously impacted by those crimes, and their families and loved ones. To those men and women, I offer my sincere apologies for the harm they suffered, my continued prayers and my promise that the Archdiocese will support them in their effort to achieve healing.

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, and with tragic outcomes failed to care for the children of our parish communities. I deeply regret that reality and its consequences. Since the day I arrived in the Archdiocese of Boston, my primary objective has been to work for healing and reconciliation among survivors, their families and the wider community of Catholics for whom the abuse crisis was a devastating experience and a great test of faith. In the midst of these groups that were most affected have stood priests and religious sisters of the Archdiocese who have tried to minister to any and all seeking assistance, even when they have been deeply challenged by the crisis that unfolded in the Church.

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.

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. 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.