Pressure Mounts on Boston Cardinal

With the Boston Archdiocese engulfed in a sex scandal, Cardinal Bernard Law is resisting growing demands for his resignation, reflecting what some experts say is his sense of duty as well as the church's desire to preserve its hierarchy.

Law has acknowledged moving now-defrocked priest John Geoghan from parish to parish despite years of evidence Geoghan was a threat to children. Geoghan has been accused of molesting more than 130 children over 30 years.

The latest call for Law to resign came in Monday's Wall Street Journal, where former Education Secretary William J. Bennett, author of The Book of Virtues, echoed a demand made previously by fellow Catholic conservative William F. Buckley and by the Boston Herald.

"Priests — including Cardinal Law — who have been involved in these cover-ups must be removed from positions of authority," Bennett wrote.

Geoghan is serving a nine-to-10-year prison sentence for fondling a boy in a swimming pool. Because of the scandal, Law has apologized and turned over to prosecutors the names of more than 80 current and former priests suspected of child abuse over the past 50 years.

But Law, 70, has shown no intention of stepping down as leader of the fourth-largest U.S. archdiocese, with 2 million Catholics. He has been archbishop since 1984, and up until this crisis, was regarded as perhaps the most powerful American prelate in the Roman Catholic Church.

"Archbishop is not a corporate executive," Law said at a Mass last month. "He's not a politician. It's a role of pastor. It's a role of teacher. It's a role of a father. When there are problems in the family, you don't walk away. You work them out together with God's help."

Those who have followed Law's career say they are not surprised. Boston College historian Thomas Wangler recalled how Law risked his life working for civil rights in Mississippi during the 1960s, traveling in car trunks for protection from segregationists.

"He's a tough, hardened engager of events and issues, the kind that comes only from having your life threatened for what you believe," Wangler said.

But perhaps more important, theologians and church historians said, is the church's belief that being part of the hierarchy is a lifetime commitment to an institution.

For a bishop to resign is an "immensely damaging mark against the church," said University of Notre Dame historian R. Scott Appleby. "These people, cardinals, archbishops, are the very pinnacle of the hierarchy in the church, so it suggests a flaw in the church itself rather a few bad apples in the bunch."

"I believe he feels that it is his duty to remain," said Eugene Kennedy, a Loyola University of Chicago professor and author of The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality. "I believe he feels committed by becoming a cardinal to maintaining the integrity fo the institution. To give up his position, from his point of view, would do more damage to the institution than it would help it."

Some have suggested that once the headlines go away Law may step aside, or perhaps be moved to a position in Rome.

Those calling for his resignation have argued that only someone new can solve the problem, and that Law's failure to appreciate the scope of the problem is serious enough to warrant his resignation.

Buckley wrote in National Review last month: "The critical concern should have been to get children out of harm's way. He didn't do that. ... One can feel with great sorrow and understanding the derangement of the arsonist, but one does not send him back into the forest."

Many Catholics agree. A Boston Herald poll conducted last month found that 61 percent of Catholics in the archdiocese said Law should resign.

Still, even some of the alleged victims do not think resignation is the answer.

Ralph DelVecchio, who claims Geoghan molested him, recently said Law should resign. Now, he is not so sure.

"He's certainly responsible for those decisions he made back then, where he put Geoghan back in when he got the reports," DelVecchio said last week. "But I really do think the guy is sincere. When I watched him on TV, I thought he was really sincere when he apologized."

Raymond Flynn, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and one-time mayor of Boston, said he speaks to Law often and encourages him stay, reminding him of "all the good that he has done." Flynn said that Law still enjoys the support of Rome.

"This is not a political organization where majority rule wins," Flynn said. "The pope believes in you, he has respect and confidence in you, that's what you need."