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The Papal Letter

Atila Sinke Guimarães

cover up Cardinal Law’s resignation, accepted December 13, is still a news topic in the magazines I am receiving. These magazines provide all kinds of information about it. They do not explain, however, the factor that changed in the panorama and induced John Paul II to accept Law’s resignation one month ago. It was a factor that was not present in April 2002 when Law made a trip to the Vatican and also offered to resign. The Pope did not accept his resignation then, but he accepted it now.

What changed? No one explains. Let me try to do so.

Until last December 7 – when he secretly flew to Rome – Cardinal Law seemed to be acting like a man who was confidently preparing the next steps of a battle. He did not appear to be particularly concerned about resignation. He was preparing to declare bankruptcy for the Archdiocese of Boston and protect it under chapter 11. That is, he was calmly devising a ruse to avoid paying compensation to the innumerable real victims suing the Archdiocese. So, to all appearances the situation was under control with no valid threat to Law’s stability. Hence, his resignation would have been caused by some new fact, a surprise element that entered the picture just some days before or after his trip. What was the new fact capable of generating such an effect?

JPII accepting Card. Bernard Law resignation

In December 2002 John Paul II accepted Cardinal Law's resignation. A new factor entered the picture...
L.A. Times, December 14, 2002
The first new fact generally cited for Cardinal Law’s resignation is that the documents released to the courts December 3 by the Archdiocese provided macabre details of sexual perversion among the clergy. These revelations re-ignited the wave of public indignation, which would have been so terrible that it obliged his resignation. I don’t believe that this fact was enough to produce such an effect, since the general wave of fury in April 2002 was even greater than the recent one, and John Paul II did not accept Law’s resignation then.

The second fact given is that 58 priests from the Boston Archdiocese signed a document asking him to resign. This gesture that came from the rank-and-file churchmen of Law’s Archdiocese would have occasioned his resignation. I don’t think this petition was enough to produce such an effect either, since in April 2002 a considerable number of Cardinals and Bishops asked the Vatican for Law’s removal (see, for example, The Los Angeles Times, “Key U.S. Clerics Plan to Push for Law’s Removal” and “Law: A Call to Oust Boston Cardinal,” April 22, 2002), and JPII did not accept it.

The third fact – this one curiously has been forgotten by the media, but in my opinion it is the strongest reason for the resignation – is this: On December 10, 2002 a group called the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors stated publicly that among the numerous files the Archdiocese released December 3, it had come across a document revealing that Pope John Paul II himself had written a letter, May 25, 1999, counseling the cover-up of pedophile priests. He advised that “a defrocked Catholic priest who had a history of molesting boys should leave the areas where his ‘condition’ was known – or stay put as long as it caused no scandal” (MSNBC News, “Smoking Gun in Church Crisis?” December 11, 2002, Online edition). The leader of the group, Joseph Gallagher, commented: “That would explain why (other) Bishops have done the same thing as Cardinal Law – they’ve moved sexual offenders from parish to parish without notifying the parishioners” (ibid.)

More clearly said, someone in the Archdiocesan office made a mistake and released a document that was not supposed to be made public, a “skeleton in the closet” of the Pope. As a consequence John Paul II started being pointed to as the highest responsible authority in the cover up of the pedophile priests. It is not difficult to imagine that the implications of such an accusation could be extremely uncomfortable for JPII… The wave of indignation against the Bishops could easily turn against him. He could also be forced to come to the U.S. to appear before a civil court of law to explain the harmful policy expressed in his letter. American civil procedures do not offer special court privileges for religious authorities. They can even go to jail, like the so-called Reverend Moon did.

Two days after this news was published, John Paul II accepted Law’s resignation. With this spectacular victory for the victims of pedophile abuse, the hue-and-cry that had just begun to be raised over John Paul II’s letter was lost in the general hubbub. This would explain why Law’s offer to resign was accepted in December but not in April. The news on Law’s resignation deviated general attention from the letter and offered a different fodder for the fire.

Was Cardinal Law judged guilty for a lack of vigilance in releasing the papal letter along with the other documents, and was he burned as punishment? Or was he asked to offer himself as a victim to save the Pope, that is to say, simply “immolated” as a scapegoat? Interesting questions…

Posted January 17, 2003


Notice 1: The MSNBC News report of December 11, 2002 was removed from its site several days later. After December 17, no one could access that file. It is the base for the article above. Fortunately, TIA saved a copy in its files. A question necessarily arises regarding this disappearance. Is it linked to the general cover-up? Who knows?

Read the removed news report here


Notice 2: Also, Mr. Joe Gallagher, the source for the MSNBC News dispatch, is now denying what he said.

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