At the Crunchy Con blog, in a discussion about the hypocrisy of Church leaders who give succor to politicians who flout the most important teachings of their Church, Rod quotes blogger Mark Gordon who writes about the supposed arrogance of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston.
This sad truth was punctuated for me in 1998, when one of the innumerable Kennedy family scions, Michael Kennedy, died in a tragic skiing accident in Colorado. On the day following the mishap, Bernard Cardinal Law, then the Archbishop of Boston, cancelled his appointments and made haste via chauffeured limousine to Hyannisport in order to “minister” to the once-more stricken Kennedy clan, whose members had been quite noisily thumbing their nose at the Church for decades. The Cardinal’s response was characterized by some as an act of mercy, if not evangelization. The truth, I think, is that it was merely a gesture of class solidarity. The cardinal reflexively considered himself to be personal pastor to the powerful, the wealthy, the important people, people like him. Fact is, he wouldn’t have thought of not going.
I remember reflecting at the time how askew the Cardinal’s priorities must have seemed to a hypothetical Margaret O’Sullivan. Imagine a lace-curtain Irish lady who lives on the third-floor of a tenement in Dorchester. She attends Mass every morning, silently reciting the Rosary while walking the several blocks to her family parish. Faithful to the Church’s teaching, Mrs. O’Sullivan and her late husband, a mechanic for the transportation authority, raised eight children. Two are toll-takers on the Mass Pike and two are housewives. There’s a cop, a priest, a junior at UMass and a graphic artist. Mrs. O’Sullivan never had a proper education, and so there is plenty she doesn’t know, but this she surely does: if one of her children or grandchildren is killed skiing in New Hampshire (none of them could afford Aspen), there is no way - none - that the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston is going to cancel his appointments, hop the Red Line to Morrissey Boulevard and climb the wainscoted back staircase to the O’Sullivan compound. And he won’t be offering any graveside comfort at Cedar Grove either. And if you suggest he might, Margaret will reply sharply, “Yeah, right. Who am I, Rose Kennedy?”
I have to disagree. And I do so quite strongly. I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating. I have been nothing if not a critic of Cardinal Lawsince the Scandal broke, but I also have personal knowledge that he is not an elitist would never stoop to minister to any but the rich and powerful.
In 1992, my brother was the cardinal’s escort at a Boston archdiocesan event. Someone asked my brother how our sister-in-law, who had been stricken with lymphatic cancer, was doing and he told them not so good. The cardinal inquired as to the situation and my brother told him about her. The cardinal asked which hospital she was in and that was it. He said no more.
That night, with no fanfare and no notice to anyone, the cardinal showed up after visiting hours, dressed only in his regular blacks and Roman collar to pray with my sister-in-law. Law was scheduled to depart on a major pilgrimage to Europe with a large group from the archdiocese early the next morning, but took time out of his schedule at the last minute to minister to one scared member of his flock. That gesture did wonders for the flowering of her Catholic faith which had only just begun when she was diagnosed with the disease. It reassured her to know that the cardinal would minister to an ordinary Catholic like her.
This never appeared in a newspaper and no one would know of it if I did not write about it on my blog.
Cardinal Law has faults—a notion with which I’m sure he’d agree—and made many mistakes, but the charge of elitism rings very hollow indeed.