VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is expected to give the final blessing at the funeral Thursday of Cardinal Bernard Law, the former Boston archbishop who resigned in disgrace during the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse scandal, prompting outrage from abuse survivors.
Francis’ role in the ceremony, which got underway Thursday afternoon, has fueled the controversy over the decision to grant Law a full cardinal’s funeral at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
During the Mass, Law’s coffin lay in front of an altar, flanked by seated cardinals and bishops wearing white mitres. Francis stood behind the coffin at one point, photos from news agencies show.
Among those attending were Callista Gingrich, the US ambassador-designate to the Holy See, and her husband, former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Law, who died early Wednesday in Rome following a long illness, became a symbol of the sex-abuse scandal after a Boston Globe investigation revealed that he and other bishops had covered up child abuse by priests in the Boston Archdiocese.
The story was made into a celebrated movie, “Spotlight,” and the scandal forced the Catholic Church to rethink the way it dealt with child abuse in the church.
It is protocol for the Pope to give the “final commendation,” or blessing, at a cardinal’s funeral when he dies in Rome, Vatican officials told CNN. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, is presiding over the Mass.
The occasion is a funeral, not a tribunal nor a judgment of Law’s life, the Vatican added. The Pope will give a commendation for the cardinal to be judged by God, officials said.
But critics have questioned why the Pope, who has previously broken with protocol when it suited him, has not chosen to do so in this case.
Francis also made no mention of the sex-abuse scandal in a telegram he sent Wednesday to Sodano marking the 86-year-old cardinal’s death.
‘Gates of hell wide open’
Alexa MacPherson, a native of the Boston area who says she is a survivor of sexual abuse by a priest, responded angrily Wednesday. “With his passing, I say I hope the gates of hell are open wide to welcome him, because I feel no redemption for somebody like him is worthwhile,” she told reporters.
Robert Costello, another Boston-area native, says that Law covered up for the cleric who abused him. Instead of being given a Vatican funeral, Law should just “disappear,” he told reporters in the Boston office of attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents many who accuse priests of sex abuse.
“Chop him up and put weights on every piece of body part that he has and drop him in oceans around the world,” said Costello, 56.
Costello added that he believed Pope Francis should have met with every single abuse victim. “There’s not a single day that goes by that I don’t remember what happened to me,” he said.
Law moved to Italy to serve as archpriest of the Papal Liberian Basilica of St. Mary Major after he was forced to resign in 2002 as archbishop of Boston. He remained a cardinal.
He apologized at the time to victims of John Geoghan, a priest who had been moved from parish to parish, despite Law’s knowledge of his abuse of young boys. Geoghan was convicted in 2002 of indecent assault and battery on a 10-year-old boy.
Law never faced criminal sanctions for his role in allowing abusive priests to remain in parishes. The scandal reverberated through the church, exposing similar allegations worldwide that compromised its moral authority and led to years of multimillion-dollar settlements.
O’ Malley: Church failed to care for children
Law’s successor in Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, told a news conference Wednesday that the funeral Mass Law would receive was what any cardinal in Rome would be given.
But he also apologized for the Catholic Church’s past failings over sex abuse by clergy. “Cardinal Law served at a time when the church failed seriously in its responsibilities to provide pastoral care for her people, and with tragic outcomes failed to care for the children of our parish communities. I deeply regret that reality and its consequences,” O’Malley said.
He added that he did not believe someone in Law’s situation would receive such a high-profile appointment — as the archpriest of a basilica — in Rome today.
Before the funeral plans were announced, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests had urged against a “celebratory focus” on Law.
“We highly doubt there is a single victim of abuse who will ever receive the same attention, pomp and circumstance by Pope Francis,” the network said in a news release after Law’s death.