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Cardinal Law Faces Pressure To Resign Over Sex Scandals

By Elizabeth Mehren

With outrage mounting among his followers, Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law came under increasing pressure to resign Thursday over disclosures that he had protected pedophile priests at the expense of his parishioners.

Around the United States and the world -- e-mails were flying among church officials about the future of America’s highest-ranking prelate. Boston’s two daily newspapers have called on Law to step down. The city’s boisterous talk radio was buzzing with little beyond demands for the cardinal to quit. Two candidates for governor of Massachusetts -- a Catholic and a Jew -- have added their voices to the chorus.

But as Law has dug his heels in -- remaining entrenched Thursday in his mansion here -- even his closest advisers, the titans of Boston’s close-knit business community, began falling away.

“It’s time,” said former Lt. Gov. Thomas P. O’Neill III, a business consultant and the grandson of the late speaker of the House. “The healing has got to begin. His staying in place puts all that off.”

Law’s reluctance to become the first U.S. cardinal ever to resign comes at a time when the church is under fire for failing to act as scores of pedophile priests apparently operated freely for decades. In Boston, Law now is widely viewed as a shepherd who did not protect his flock.

The sexual abuse scandal exploded in January, when The Boston Globe obtained documents proving that the Boston archdiocese knew for years that former priest John Geoghan was molesting children. (He is now in prison.) Soon parishes worldwide were reeling amid reports of abuses long covered up that had came out into the open.

The coup de grace for the Boston archdiocese and its besieged cardinal came Monday, when evidence surfaced that Law had approved the transfer of a pedophile priest, Father Paul Shanley, from Boston to California.

One of his alleged victims, 55-year-old Arthur Austin, took aim at Law for sheltering a predator without “a crumb of compassion” for those who were injured. “You are a liar,” Austin said. “Your own documents condemn you.”

At the archdiocese here, spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey did not respond to a request for an interview with Law.

The cardinal, said Eugene Kennedy -- a former priest and professor emeritus at Chicago’s Loyola University who has studied pedophilia in the priesthood -- once was “the most influential person in the American Catholic church.” But now, Kennedy said, “he has lost his moral authority.”

The 70-year-old Law was born in Torreon, Mexico, the child of a U.S. Army colonel. Ordained in 1961, he plunged into civil rights work in Mississippi so wholeheartedly that his name showed up on a hit list issued by local segregationists.

His social progressivism continued as he took over in 1973 as bishop in the diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo. He opened soup kitchens, welcomed refugee priests from Vietnam, reached out to other denominations -- and began a methodical ascent in Catholic hierarchy.

Law took over in Boston in 1984 with a mandate to enforce a tough, conservative Vatican party line. He was elevated to cardinal in 1985, and established himself as a major force in a city where Catholics dominate the top ranks of business and politics.