Monday, November 21, 2011

Cardinal Law replaced in Vatican ceremonial post

Cardinal Bernard Law, the American prelate most closely identified with the sex-abuse scandal, has been removed from a ceremonial post at the Vatican.

On November 21, the Vatican press office announced that Archbishop Santos Abril y Castello had been appointed Archpriest of the basilica of St. Mary Major. That post had been held since 2004 by Cardinal Law.

The Vatican announcement took a highly unusual form, never mentioning Cardinal Law’s name or reporting that he had resigned the post.

In his previous post as Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law had become the focal point of attention as the media unearthed shocking revelations about sexual abuse by priests in that archdiocese. An investigation led by the Boston Globe showed that the cardinal had knowingly given new pastoral assignments to abusive priests, while covering up evidence of their misconduct. Although journalists would eventually expose that many other American bishops engaged in a similar pattern of negligence, Cardinal Law became the target of savage public criticism, and in December 2002 he resigned.

Two years later, however, Cardinal Law was named Archpriest of the Roman basilica. The appointment caused a new uproar among advocates for sex-abuse victims, who argued that a prelate who had resigned in disgrace should not be given a position of honor. The role of an Archpriest is mainly ceremonial, and the post is generally given to a senior prelate who has retired from ordinary pastoral duties.

Having passed his 80th birthday on November 4, Cardinal Law had become ineligible to participate in another papal conclave, and he was automatically removed from his membership in Vatican congregations. However, an Archpriest is not necessarily required to step down, and in fact Cardinal Law’s two immediate predecessors at St. Mary Major, Cardinals Carlo Furno and Ugo Poletti, each was 82 when he resigned.

The new Archpriest of St. Mary Major, Archbishop Abril y Castello, is a veteran Vatican diplomat who, at the age of 75, was appointed this year as vice-chamberlain of the Holy See.

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