Church Will Never Regain Political Juice Lost during Cardinal Law's Misrule

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Roman Catholic Church began to be a factor in Massachusetts politics in the 1640s when the colonial government adopted anti-priest laws.  There were maybe a few hundred Catholics, French and Irish mainly, in Massachusetts at that time.  They were scattered across the colony, lying low, in fear of the Puritans.

That the church continues to matter in Massachusetts politics -- only nowhere near the way it did in the heyday of Cardinal Richard Cushing, 50-some years ago -- was apparent on the State House News Service website today, where an obituary appeared under the headline, “Cardinal Law, 86, Leaves Behind Dark Legacy in Boston.”  A photo of a younger, smiling Law accompanied the unflattering write-up in an editorially taunting way.
Law’s successor, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, was quoted by the State House News Service as follows: “…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.”

The SHNS obit featured a vivid quote by a victim of clergy sexual abuse, Alexa MacPherson, who had spoken at a press conference this morning.  MacPherson said she hopes “the gates of hell open wide” for Law.  “With his passing,” she said, “I feel no remorse in saying that I hope he gets what he deserves in hell.  There is nothing positive about him.”

That got me thinking about Law’s journey in the afterlife, which caused me to look up online the funeral arrangements.  The requiem Mass for him will be held tomorrow at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and and Law will be buried in Rome, where he has been on the lam, in splendor, since resigning as head of the Boston archdiocese in late-2002.
I believe that Law will get what he deserves on the other side of this life.  We all do.  But I would not bet he’ll spend eternity in hell.  I had twelve years of Catholic parochial school education in Revere, MA, and I remain a believing, practicing Catholic. 

One thing we Catholics learned at a young age is that God will always forgive a sinner who confesses his sins to a priest, asks for forgiveness with a good and contrite heart, receives absolution from the priest, and performs the penance ordered by the priest.  It doesn’t matter how large and terrible and damaging were the penitent’s sins.  Even Hitler could, in theory, have been forgiven if he had made a good confession, forgone suicide, and accepted his earthly punishment at the conclusion of World War II, the Sisters of St. Joseph taught us. 
Here’s another thing we learned: the church will say that someone is in heaven but will never say that someone, anyone, has gone to hell, so great and unfathomable are the ways of God.

Based on what was inculcated in me as a boy, I would surmise that Law had enough faith and self-awareness to have confessed his sins in covering up for the many priest-criminal-deviates who ruined the lives of hundreds of innocent children and, in return, to have received absolution. 
I believe that Law squirms now in Purgatory, suffering from an unimaginably intense and burning supernatural awareness of the harm wrought in Boston by his nonfeasance and malfeasance, and that he will undergo such suffering for a humanly inconceivable period before receiving the grace of approaching God in all of his unapproachable goodness and light.

Faith along these lines must be guiding the Vatican big shots planning Law’s funeral and burial in the very heart of Roman Catholicism tomorrow.  They’re saying the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, will preside at that Mass.  They’re also saying – I can’t believe it! -- that Pope Francis himself will offer some sort of final blessing.
The top men in Rome must have realized how offensive this grand send-off at St. Peter’s will be to the victims of clergy sex abuse and the ones who love them.  They had to know what a public relations disaster it would be.  Yet they went with it. 


My guess is they’re willing to risk the world’s scorn, contempt and hatred on this matter in an attempt to make a point about God’s inscrutable capacity for forgiveness and mercy.  Call them crazy.  Or call them brave.  Just don’t call them for marketing advice.
I read today that, in 2010, the Religion Census found that 45 percent of Massachusetts residents considered themselves Catholics, making Massachusetts one of the most Catholic places, at least nominally, in America. This was eight years after Law had been driven from the ecclesial heights in disgrace.  My initial reaction was: maybe Law didn’t do as much damage as one would have expected.

A picture then came to mind of the many empty pews I see on any given Sunday and of the occupied pews predominantly filled with older Catholics.  By the 2020 Religion Census, Massachusetts will be a lot less Catholic.


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