Theories Surround Law's Visit: Surprise Trip to Rome Provokes Speculation about Resignation, Bankruptcy. (Church in Crisis)

By Allen, John L., Jr. | National Catholic Reporter, December 20, 2002 | Go to article overview

Theories Surround Law's Visit: Surprise Trip to Rome Provokes Speculation about Resignation, Bankruptcy. (Church in Crisis)


Allen, John L., Jr., National Catholic Reporter


A media frenzy, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Thus Cardinal Bernard Law's surprise trip to Rome in early December, amid new revelations of sex abuse by priests and signs of financial meltdown in the Boston archdiocese, generated rivers of speculation in the absence of hard information.

Officially, the only comment on the trip came Dec. 9, from Vatican spokesperson Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who issued a terse two-line statement confirming Law's presence and saying that he had come to discuss "diverse aspects of the situation" in Boston.

As NCR went to press, there were indications that another statement might be forthcoming.

Law, as has become his custom, avoided the press. He lodged in the apartment of Bishop James Harvey from Milwaukee, who is the head of the Pontifical Household. Since the apartment is behind Vatican walls, TV crews could not lie in wait for Law as he entered and exited.

Even the identities of the Vatican officials with whom Law met were not confirmed, though sources indicated they included two senior cardinals: Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Dario Castrillon Hoyos, head of the Congregation for Clergy. Castrillon's office handles cases of "alienation of property," the closest thing in canon law to bankruptcy, one of the items Law came to discuss. Re is responsible for overseeing bishops--including, if it should come to that, asking for their resignation. Law was also expected to see John Paul II before returning to Boston at the end of the week.

Unofficially, Rome was awash in theories about the nature and purpose of Law's visit.

Some Vatican officials privately suggested that the pope might name a coadjutor bishop for Boston, meaning a prelate who would step in alongside Law and assume some of his powers, presumably including the areas of personnel and finance that are the heart of the present crisis.

The appointment of a coadjutor bishop would certainly have a logic. It is a time-honored Vatican solution for troubled dioceses, avoiding the necessity to remove the existing bishop while effectively placing the diocese under new management.

As the story unfolded, a few names of possible candidates for the position began to surface. They included Archbishop Edward O'Brien, currently head of the military archdiocese in the United States; Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis; and Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn. Flynn is the chair of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, and Lori is a member.

Other Vatican sources, however, downplayed the idea. An official in the Congregation for Bishops told NCR Dec. 10 that "all the options are open" and suggested that naming a coadjutor was not the preferred solution. It would not satisfy those most insistent upon Law's resignation, he said, and could create conflicts between Law and the new bishop that could simply aggravate administrative paralysis.

Still other sources insisted that Law's resignation was not really the focus at all, and that the potential implications of bankruptcy in Boston formed the meat of Law's Vatican conversations. …

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