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Monday, 9 December, 2002, 14:11 GMT
Mystery over crisis cardinal's trip
Protests against abuse in the US Catholic Church
Some want the cardinal to face criminal charges
The Vatican is maintaining near-silence on the dramatic visit to Rome by the beleaguered head of the Roman Catholic Church in Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law.

Cardinal Law flew to Italy after abruptly cancelling an appearance at a Sunday mass, as pressure grew on him to resign over his handling of child abuse by priests.


The priests and people of Boston have lost confidence in you as their spiritual leader

Priests' protest letter against Cardinal Law

The Vatican confirmed that the cardinal was holding talks with the Holy See, but refused to give any specific details.

The Church in Boston is facing more than 400 civil lawsuits over child abuse claims and is threatening to file for bankruptcy.

"The cardinal came to inform the Holy See about diverse aspects of the situation in his diocese in Boston," said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls in a short statement.

Officials in the Boston diocese said they hoped to give more information later on Monday.

Street protests

The Boston Church's finance council voted last Wednesday to allow Cardinal Law to take the archdiocese into bankruptcy, provided he had the Vatican's approval.

The move would suspend all civil lawsuits and force claimants to create a single group in a federal court. It would also set a time limit for the filing of new claims.

Vatican approval is needed because the Church's accounts would be opened to public scrutiny.

The scandal deepened last week with the publication of Church records which showed that the archdiocese had allowed priests accused of abuse to keep their jobs.

Cardinal Bernard Law
Cardinal Law's handling of child abuse claims has been criticised
On Sunday, several hundred people demonstrated outside Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross calling for criminal charges to be brought against the cardinal.

In a potentially even more damaging development a letter signed by a number of priests calling on the cardinal to step down is being circulated.

"The priests and people of Boston have lost confidence in you as their spiritual leader," the priests wrote in the letter to the cardinal, a copy of which was published in The Boston Globe.

The BBC's religious affairs correspondent, Robert Pigott, says that after this gesture of open revolt, the Vatican may believe the situation in Boston is slipping out of control.

It is the second time this year that Cardinal Law has travelled to the Vatican amid calls for his resignation.

Abuse law change

In California, Roman Catholic bishops have warned that the Church there could face a financial crisis from a new state law encouraging claims from people alleging they were sexually abused by priests in childhood.

The law takes effect on 1 January and extends the deadline beyond which people can claim sexual abuse by priests.

Under the current law, anyone alleging abuse has to sue either before their 26th birthday or within three years of discovering any emotional problems which might be linked to the abuse.

The law was passed five months ago as scores of allegations against Catholic clergymen were coming to light across the country.

In a pastoral letter, to be read in more than 1,000 churches across the state, the bishops said the law could ruin Catholic schools and charities.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Frances Kennedy
"The Vatican is under increasing pressure to intervene"
The Church has been rocked by recent abuse revelations

Boston cardinal quits

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