Mourning the pope
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Posted April 11, 2005 at 3:37 p.m. CDT
Vatican: ‘It’s forgiveness.’
Victims: ‘It’s more pain.’

By Stacy Meichtry
Vatican City

If the continuing calls for Pope John Paul II’s sainthood have provided a testament of his enduring charisma, a memorial Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica Monday served as a harbinger of the challenges facing his successor.

The Mass, one of the nine official memmorial Masses, celebrated by Cardinal Bernard Law, former archbishop of Boston, drew members of an American advocacy group representing victims of clergy abuse to the basilica to protest his role.

Leaders of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) arrived under the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square bearing informational pamphlets and photos of their abusers and were greeted by a throng of rowdy paparazzi. The ensuing scrum prompted police to relocate the delegation across the street from the square, before escorting them into the basilica where they attended a portion of the Mass. 

“This isn’t about punishing Cardinal Law,” said Barbara Blaine, founder of the 5,000-member group. “It’s just that his presence in such a position brings about more pain and suffering.”

As cardinals continue to observe a media blackout announced Saturday, public attention has shifted to the memorial Masses for indications of what prelates are thinking as they prepare to enter on April 18 the conclave that will elect the new pope. Since the blackout began, the only official news to come out of the Vatican has been an announcement that the question of John Paul II’s beatification will be left to his successor to settle.

But Vatican observers say that won’t be the only order of business on the next pope’s “to do” list. "The sex scandal isn’t a case of there being criminals in the Catholic family, it’s a result of the church lacking governance," said Alberto Melloni, a church historian at the University of Modena.

"We have just celebrated the end of a charismatic leader. Now we get down to the problems facing John Paul III, " Melloni said referring to the next pope. "For the church, tonight is a kind of State of the Union address."

While governance has emerged as one of the top issues facing cardinals as they prepare for the conclave, opinions vary on how to improve it. Some say more Vatican involvement in the local affairs of bishops is needed while others say the dioceses need more autonomy.

Cardinal Edward Egan of New York told reporters last week that the “parish is the central unit that organizes us.” Referring to the selection of the next pope, he added: “His focus, universally, should be on the local communities of faith, which are served by the dioceses and archdioceses.”

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago called for more collegiality between Rome and local dioceses, which he said "doesn't mean autonomy. It doesn't mean independence. It means just the opposite. It means you're together."

Fr. Jacob Srampickal, a professor of communications at the Pontifical Gregorian University, said the pervasiveness of abuse cases in the United States demonstrated a need for more dialogue between the Vatican and local dioceses. He was critical, however, of the ongoing media scrutiny.

"The media has to understand that this is clearly a gesture of forgiveness towards a man who has suffered, not the honoring of a criminal," Srampickal said of Law’s prominence in Rome.

"Catholic teaching is that to have forgiveness you have to have justice. That hasn’t happened yet." Blaine said, minutes before the Memorial Mass began.

Law resigned from the Boston archdiocese in 2002 under pressure following the release of court records showing that he had permitted priests guilty of child sex abuse to change parishes without informing the public. Law was subsequently designated as archpriest of St. Mary Major, Rome’s oldest and most prominent Marian basilica. His designation as the celebrant of the fourth day of John Paul II’s official mourning is a privilege traditionally given to archpriests who head Rome’s major Basilicas.

In his homily, Law reflected on the pope’s popularity among young Catholics and his steadfast devotion to the Madonna. "Is there someone who has done more than Pope John Paul II to renew the authentic emotions of Catholics towards Mary?" he asked.

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