Pope recites final prayer at funeral for disgraced Cardinal Law

PHOTO: Pope Francis spreads incense over the coffin during the funeral of the former Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law in St. Peters Basilica at the Vatican, Dec. 21, 2017. PlayMax Rossi/Reuters
WATCH Funeral for disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law slated for Thursday in Rome

A funeral Mass held for Cardinal Bernard Law this afternoon in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican was attended by a small congregation. Law, the disgraced former archbishop of Boston, was accused of covering up for priests involved in sexual abuse scandals in the late 1980s and 1990s.

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Cardinals, bishops and Law's family, as well as a dozen diplomats, including the newly arrived U.S. Ambassador-designate to the Holy See Callista Gingrich and her husband, Newt Gingrich, plus several nuns from different religious orders, were at the funeral. Law died in a Rome hospital at the age of 86 in the early hours of Wednesday, Dec. 20, after a long illness

The funeral Mass, which was held at the grand altar behind the main papal altar in the basilica, was celebrated by Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who, as dean of the cardinals, is the officiant for all cardinals' funerals in St. Peter's. Most pilgrims and tourists visiting the basilica for Christmas seemed unaware that the ceremony was underway.

Sodano referred to Law as "our dear deceased cardinal" and spoke of his 56 years of priestly dedication. At one point, Sodano seemed to allude to the abuse scandals in the U.S., saying, "Sadly, unfortunately, some too can fail in their mission" and that is why Catholics include a confession of sins at the beginning of every Mass.

"For two millennia, the church has taught to pray for our dead and call for eternal peace as they rest," Sodano added.

PHOTO: U.S. ambassador Callista Gingrich and her husband Newt Gingrich attend the funeral service for late Cardinal Bernard Law, at the St. Peters Basilica at the Vatican, Dec. 21, 2017. Franco Origlia/Getty Images
U.S. ambassador Callista Gingrich and her husband Newt Gingrich attend the funeral service for late Cardinal Bernard Law, at the St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Dec. 21, 2017.

Pope Francis, as is his custom for cardinals' funerals, entered at the end of the ceremony to recite the final prayer in Latin and bless the simple wooden coffin with holy water and incense before processing out.

The Mass, which was conducted mostly in Latin, followed the same liturgy as Masses for all cardinals and bishops who die at the Vatican. As is the norm for these funerals, no live television coverage was available, and were Sodano's remarks were not distributed by the Vatican.

A number of abuse survivors have criticized the Vatican for allowing the funeral in St. Peter's and the pope for participating in it.

Law was seen by many as a symbol of the church sex-abuse scandals in the U.S. after an investigation revealed that he and other bishops mishandled instances of clerical sex abuse in the Boston archdiocese. Under his leadership, priests accused of abuse were moved to other postings, and abuse survivors said he failed to protect or support victims of sexual assault. At the height of the scandals, Law was moved to a position in Rome, safe from prosecution. He was never charged with any crime.

After leaving his position in Boston in 2002, Law served as archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where he served until 2011. He led a low-profile life in Rome, appearing in public only at papal ceremonies and a few official events.

His death leaves the College of Cardinals with 216 members, 120 of whom are under the age of 80 and are eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.