A faction of American cardinals was reportedly preparing to force the resignation of one of their own last night – Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston – on the eve of crisis talks with the Pope on the paedophilia scandal in the US Catholic Church.
Met by jostling throngs of reporters and photographers, the cardinals touched down in Rome yesterday for two days of discussions about the controversy that erupted in Boston in January and has since affected dioceses across the country.
The spotlight will inevitably fall on Cardinal Law. In two prominent child abuse cases he has been accused of shunting the guilty priests from parish to parish instead of defrocking them and reporting them to the police.
Some of his colleagues asked for patience yesterday. "The trouble began on his watch and he wants to fix it. Give him a chance," Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington DC told reporters gathered near St Peter's Square.
However, a report in the Los Angeles Times said that other leaders in the American Church intended urging the Vatican to remove Cardinal Law. "Many bishops are of the mind that the healing process really can't begin until there's a change of leadership in Boston," one cardinal told the newspaper on condition of anonymity.
"If the Holy See wants to send a strong signal of quality and standards of leadership," he said, then Cardinal Law "will have to be replaced. It cannot be a phase-out."
Cardinal Law, who is the most senior of all the American cardinals, leading 64 million Catholics, is now known to have travelled secretly to the Vatican only last week to seek advice. He returned to Boston saying he was determined to remain in his position.
On Sunday, however, he gave his most abject apology to date for the Church's failings. "I and many others have been late to recognise the inadequacy of past policies, the dimensions of the crisis and the changes required to restore a sense of trust," he told a congregation. He was rewarded with a standing ovations while, outside, protesters chanted for his resignation.
The Pope's only public reference to the issue came in a pre-Easter letter to priests. He said a "dark shadow of suspicion" had been cast over priests "by some of our brothers who have betrayed the grace of ordination".
Some in the American Church have indicated that they would like to see the beginnings of a conversation on areas hitherto considered taboo – measures to screen out gays seeking ordination and the viability of celibacy.
Cardinal McCarrick said: "I think we'll talk about whatever the cardinals want to talk about, because we want to make sure that we handle this and that we are able to say to our people that this is under control, that it won't happen again and we're moving in that direction."Reuse content