VATICAN CITY – Cardinal Bernard Law (search), whose failures to stop sexually abusive priests sparked the worst crisis in American church history, led a Mass for thousands mourning Pope John Paul II (search) at St. Peter's Basilica on Monday after police whisked away a victim protesting outside.
Law celebrated the Mass without disruption, saying in his homily that Italian, Polish and other pilgrims were inspiring in their huge tribute to John Paul. Nearly 3 million mourners flooded Rome for the pontiff's funeral last week.
"In these incredible days, the pope continues to teach us what it means ... to be a follower of Christ," Law said, reading slowly in Italian. "Our faith has been reinforced."
After the service, several worshippers from Europe said they had never heard of Law. American parishioners said they recognized him, but questioned whether the protest was appropriate right after the pope died.
"It's not the time or the place," said Mary Beth Bauer, who lives in Maine and had followed the abuse crisis and Law's resignation.
But some Catholics said seeing the cardinal presiding over Mass at one of the most significant sites for their faith was another sign that the Vatican did not understand the betrayal parishioners felt that he protected guilty priests.
Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (search), and Barbara Dorris, also a leader of the advocacy group, said the Vatican's choice of Law devastated victims.
"We believe he should take a back seat and stay in the background so Catholics can grieve without having to have the sex abuse scandal in their face," said Blaine, who had flown into Rome just hours before the Mass.
At St. Peter's Square, Blaine planned to distribute fliers, but was quickly surrounded by Italian officers who moved her without incident outside the plaza. The officers did not respond when asked why she was removed, but Blaine said they told her that news cameras were not allowed.
Blaine said she felt compelled to travel to the Vatican from her home in Chicago after learning of Law's public role in memorializing the pope. The Mass is one of nine daily services for the pope for the period of mourning called Novemdiales.
Law resigned as archbishop of Boston in December 2002 after unsealed court records revealed he had moved predatory clergy among parishes for years without telling parents their children were at risk. He has apologized for his wrongdoing.
More than 550 people have filed abuse claims in Boston in recent years, and the archdiocese has paid more than $85 million in settlements. The scandal erupted in Boston in January 2002 and spread nationwide, causing what American Catholic bishops have called the worst crisis in the U.S. church.
After Law's resignation, the pope appointed him archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, one of four basilicas under direct Vatican jurisdiction.
Some church leaders have said the Vatican chose Law to celebrate the Mass because he leads an important church, not as a personal honor.
Still, the assignment gave Law a position of influence ahead of the papal election, which is set to begin next Monday.
In suburban Boston, Voice of the Faithful, a lay Catholic organization founded in response to the clergy sex abuse crisis which claims 30,000 members, said Law should not have celebrated the Mass and should not take part in the conclave that will select a new pope.
"Cardinal Law is a living symbol of the Catholic Church's failures in dealing with the underlying causes of sexual abuse," the group's president, James E. Post said, in a statement. He called the scandal "one of the darkest stains on John Paul II's legacy," and said Law's high-profile role is a painful reminder of the abuse and cover-up.
The Survivors Network, which claims more than 5,600 members, has spent more than a decade pressing U.S. bishops to acknowledge the scope of molestation in the church.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Law, through an aide, declined to comment on his participation in the Mass. The Survivors Network had asked the American cardinals to intervene to stop Law, but Blaine said they did not respond.
Blaine, who said a priest began molesting her when she was about 12 and who received an $80,000 settlement from the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio, contended the Vatican — not her group — was responsible for making abuse an issue during the papal transition. She did not oppose Law's voting in the conclave.