updated 5/27/2004 3:04:19 PM ET 2004-05-27T19:04:19

Cardinal Bernard Law was appointed by the pope Wednesday to a ceremonial but highly visible post in Rome, outraging many in the archdiocese Law left in disgrace as the height of the clergy sex scandal.

Law, 72, will have the title of archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica, a post often given to retired prelates.

Pope John Paul II’s announcement came two days after the Boston Archdiocese said it would lose at least 65 parishes as it grapples with declining collections, a shortage of priests and fallout from the scandal.

The Rev. Bob Bowers of St. Catherine’s Church in Charlestown said he was astounded the Vatican would “reward” Law so soon after announcing church closings caused in part by what he considers mismanagement of the archdiocese.

“It’s an utter disgrace and the people of the archdiocese are being burdened by this,” he said.

Jack Shaughnessy, a Boston businessman and longtime friend of Law’s, said he was delighted by the appointment, adding that Law has borne too much blame for the scandal, in which Law and other church officials were discovered to have shifted child-molesting priests from parish to parish for decades.

Basilica is tourist attraction
St. Mary Major is one of four basilicas under direct Vatican jurisdiction. It has an international staff of priests for the many tourists who visit the city.

Law visited the basilica on Thursday, walking in a side door without commenting to an Associated Press Television crew.

Law was named in hundreds of lawsuits accusing him of failing to protect children from known child molesters. After 18 years leading the nation’s fourth-largest archdiocese, Law resigned in 2002.

Ten months later, Law’s successor, Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley, helped broker an $85 million settlement with more than 550 victims of pedophile priests.

Since his resignation, Law has served as resident chaplain at a convent in Maryland. Law has kept close ties with Rome, serving on nine Vatican congregations and councils. He also kept the title of cardinal, retaining the right to vote in papal elections until he turns 80.

Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who represents more than 130 alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests, complained: “He apparently is being transferred to a position that is comfortable and appears to be some sort of reward. The Vatican either doesn’t understand the problem of clergy sex abuse, or it doesn’t care.”

Vatican accused of insensitivity
David Clohessy, spokesman for the sex abuse victims group SNAP, said the appointment shows alarming insensitivity by Vatican leaders.

“We understand that many in the hierarchy consider Law a smart man with some skills,” he said in a statement. “We also know, however, that many in the pews consider Law a near criminal with major liabilities.”

Jamie Hogan, who said he was molested by a priest in the 1960s, said Law’s appointment does not bother him, as long as the cardinal is just a figurehead with no power to make decisions like those “that ruined our lives.”

“It keeps him in Rome, it keeps him out of the country and away from all the people who suffered,” he said. “Maybe he can do some good from what he knows now.”

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