Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign in disgrace as archbishop of Boston two years ago for protecting sexually abusive priests, was named by the Vatican on Thursday as one of nine prelates who will have the honor of presiding over funeral Masses for Pope John Paul II.
To many US Catholics, Law is best known as the archbishop who presided over the Boston archdiocese as it became the focus for the sexual abuse scandal involving priests.
But to Vatican officials, Law is a powerful kingmaker who traveled internationally for the church and whose favorite priests were regularly appointed bishops by John Paul.
After he stepped down in Boston in 2003, he was given a spacious apartment and a prestigious although honorary post in Rome as archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major.
It is by virtue of this position that he was given the high-profile role of celebrating Monday's funeral ritual, the third in the nine-day mourning period that follows a pope's death.
It is expected that most of the cardinals will attend the Mass, which will be open to the public. Law will deliver a homily that many Vatican watchers will parse for clues about the cardinals' thinking on who should be the next pope.
By permitting Law to take the limelight in Rome just when the church is mourning the death of John Paul, the cardinals have reminded US Catholics that their most painful recent chapter barely registered in the Vatican.
"It's yet another example of the gap between how the Vatican sees things and how the US church sees things," said the Reverend Keith Pecklers, a US Jesuit who is a professor at the Gregorian, a pontifical university in Rome. "This kind of thing can open the wounds for people just when the healing was beginning."
Law resigned after a judge decided to unseal court records that included a letter from the cardinal commending priests even though he knew they had been accused at one time of abusing children. After saying for a year that he would not resign, he finally stepped down and cloistered himself for a while in a monastery until his appointment in Rome.
More than 600 people who say they were victims have come forward in the Boston archdiocese, the fourth-largest in the US. The church there has paid settlements of more than US$90 million, and Law's successor, Archbishop Sean O'Malley, has had to consolidate parishes and close Catholic schools to cope with the resulting financial problems.
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