Cardinal Bernard Law celebrated Mass in mourning for Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Basilica today, ignoring protests from victims that his handling of the sex abuse scandal in the U.S. Catholic Church should disqualify him from the honor.
Police broke up a small but symbolic protest staged by two victims of sex abuse at the hands of American clergy, escorting one of them off St. Peter's Square as she was preparing to distribute fliers.
Several uniformed officers walked Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, behind barricades set up at the entrance to the square. The officers did not explain why they escorted Blaine off the piazza, and she had no immediate comment.
Blaine and another leader of the group brought their campaign for reform to the center of Catholicism, demanding that Vatican officials bar Law from celebrating the important Mass mourning John Paul.
They arrived in Rome just hours before today's service and condemned what they called the Vatican's "hurtful decision" to choose Law for the honor.
Law resigned as archbishop of Boston in December 2002 after unsealed court records revealed he had moved predatory clergy among parishes without alerting parents that their children were at risk. More than 550 people have filed abuse claims in Boston in recent years, and the archdiocese has paid more than $85 million in settlements.
American cardinals generally have declined to comment on Law's celebrating one of the nine daily Masses for John Paul, a period of mourning called Novemdiales. But some have said the Vatican likely chose him because he leads an important church, not to give him a personal honor.
Rome's St. Mary Major Basilica, the church where John Paul appointed Law an archpriest, is one of four basilicas under direct Vatican jurisdiction.
Blaine said earlier today that the group was not opposed to Law's participation in the conclave, but that his public role in the papal transition was hurtful.
"We are the sons and daughters of the Catholic family who were raped, sodomized and sexually molested by priests," Blaine said, holding a photograph of herself as a child around the time she said a priest began molesting her.
"At this time, we should be able to focus on the Holy Father's death, instead of Cardinal Law's prominence."
To victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests -- some of the accused worked under Law when he ran the Archdiocese of Boston -- his selection to offer today's Mass is a sign that the church has not come to grips with a very dark period in its recent history.
"It's beyond a slap in the face; it's rubbing salt into some very raw wounds," said David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, a group representing about 5,000 clergy sexual-abuse victims. "He's the symbol of the scandal. This is a clear sign that the church is not taking its history of sexual abuse seriously and that it is not at all in touch with the pain in the American church."
The church, officially, has made no comment on his selection.
The Rev. Keith Pecklers, an American priest who teaches at Gregorian University in Rome, defends Law.
"The Vatican sees Cardinal Law as a cardinal in good standing, and, moreover, he is a cardinal elector in the conclave and has every right to preach," Pecklers said.