Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in disgrace as archbishop of Boston over his role in the clergy sex abuse crisis, has been given a role of honor in the mourning for Pope John Paul II.
The Vatican announced Thursday he will lead one of the daily Masses celebrated in the pope's memory during the nine-day period that follows the funeral, called Novemdiales. The service will be held Monday at Rome's St. Mary Major Basilica, where Law was appointed archpriest after leaving Boston.
Some Roman Catholics in his former archdiocese immediately protested.
Suzanne Morse, spokeswoman for Voice of the Faithful, a Massachusetts-based reform group that emerged from the scandal, said Law's visibility since the pope's death has been "extremely painful" both for abuse survivors and rank-and-file Catholics.
"It certainly shows and puts a spotlight on the lack of accountability in the Catholic Church, that the most visible bishop in the clergy sexual abuse crisis has been given these honorary opportunities," she said.
David Clohessy, national director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called it "terribly insensitive."
"It rubs salt into the already deep wounds of victims and it allows the best-documented complicit bishop to exploit the pope's death for his own selfish purposes," Clohessy said.
Law did not respond to a phone message left at the basilica.
Law stepped down as archbishop within months after a judge unsealed court records in January 2002 that showed he had allowed priests with confirmed histories of molesting children to continue working in parishes.
Among the records were letters Law had written to some of the predators expressing support and thanks for their service to the church.
Many Boston Catholics already were upset about the pope's decision to appoint him to the basilica. The post is ceremonial but highly visible; the church is one of four basilicas under direct Vatican jurisdiction.
Chester Gillis, an expert in Catholicism at Georgetown University, said celebrating a Mass during the mourning period is not only an honor, but a position of influence.
In their homilies, cardinals usually indicate what they think are the key issues for the church ahead. Observers scour the speeches for clues to how a cardinal will vote.
"This is an ability to express oneself to one's colleagues all at one time," Gillis said.
Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said he did not know why Law was chosen, but said it was likely because the basilica is one of the great churches of Rome.
"It would be a natural selection," McCarrick said. "The choice was certainly not made for any reason except to honor St. Mary Major."
Asked if it was a Vatican signal that Law should be forgiven, McCarrick said, "I think we feel we are all Easter people. ... We look at the light rather than the darkness."
The fourth-largest U.S. diocese has been shaken not only by Law's resignation after 18 years, but also by settlements of more than $85 million with more than 550 victims.
Law's successor, Archbishop Sean O'Malley, has also had to oversee a series of painful parish closures as the archdiocese adjusts to a shortage of priests and drop in collections.
O'Malley, in Rome for the pope's funeral, declined to comment on Law.
"We're here to talk about the pope," he said.
In Boston, Ronald Lacey, 35, was among those who said Law's resignation as archbishop was irrelevant to his role in memorializing the pope.
"I think it was right for him to leave the Archdiocese of Boston. But if he grieves the death of the Holy Father, I think that's right, too," said Lacey, who was attending midday Mass at a downtown church.
By Rachel Zoll