Pope Francis will participate in the funeral Mass for Cardinal Bernard Law to be held Thursday in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, an action consistent with Francis’ message of forgiveness and in keeping with centuries of church tradition, officials said Wednesday.
The funeral Mass for Law, who died Tuesday at the age of 86, will be celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, who will be joined by other cardinals, archbishops, and bishops, according to the Vatican.
In a statement, Francis expressed condolences to the College of Cardinals on Law’s death.
“I raise prayers for the repose of his soul, that the Lord, God who is rich in mercy, may welcome him in His eternal peace, and I send my apostolic blessing to those who share in mourning the passing of the cardinal, whom I entrust to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary Salus Populi Romani,” Francis said in the statement.
Francis did not mention the child abuse scandal that will be Law’s best-known legacy.
The service is scheduled to be held at 9:30 a.m. Boston time, according to the Vatican.
Among those not attending will be Law’s successor in Boston, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, who recently returned from a week in Rome, according to his spokesman.
“Having just returned from a week of meetings in Rome with the Holy Father and his fellow cardinals, Cardinal Sean will remain in the US,’’ Terry Donilon, O’Malley’s spokesman, told the Globe. “Upon learning of Cardinal Law’s failing health, Cardinal Sean visited him in the hospital before returning to Boston.”
O’Malley, reacting to Law’s death, offered an apology Wednesday to those who were sexually abused by Catholic priests during Law’s tenure.
“I am particularly cognizant of all who experienced the trauma of sexual abuse by clergy, whose lives were so seriously impacted by those crimes, and their families and loved ones,’’ he wrote. “To those men and women, I offer my sincere apologies for the harm they suffered, my continued prayers and my promise that the Archdiocese will support them in their effort to achieve healing.’’
O’Malley, who has drawn both praise and criticism for his response to the sexual abuse crisis he inherited, emphatically laid responsibility on Law and the church leaders of the time for shuttling abusive priests around parishes without alerting the faithful of their past predatory behavior.
“Cardinal Law served at a time when the Church failed seriously in its responsibilities to provide pastoral care for her people, and with tragic outcomes failed to care for the children of our parish communities,’’ O’Malley said. “I deeply regret that reality and its consequences.”
Francis will be present during the service and will only take an active part at the end when what is known as the “final commendation” is performed, said Father James T. Bretzke, a Boston College professor of moral theology.
Bretzke said that is the moment during Catholic funerals where the priest prays as he walks around the casket, swinging a censor loaded with incense. Bretzke said Francis is unlikely to stray from the written liturgy during the service.
In attending Law’s funeral, Bretzke said Pope Francis is not giving any special attention to the former leader of the Boston Archdiocese but instead is acting consistent with centuries of Catholic tradition and in keeping with Francis’ message of “mercy and forgiveness.”
Bretzke said a pope always attends the funeral of a cardinal who dies in Rome.
Bretzke said that a cousin of his fell prey to an abusive priest, and that he has seen his cousin struggle with the fallout of the abuse over the past several years. And he knows that some of the abuse victims will be angry at Francis for attending Law’s funeral.
And, he said, he still believes Francis is making the proper choice, one that he thinks Francis is making even though it will be considered “insensitive” by some.
“He is walking the walk of mercy and forgiveness. . . . At the end of the day, except for the Blessed Virgin and Jesus, all of us are sinners, that’s part of Christian doctrine,” he said. “All of us hopefully go to God with the hope that God will forgive us our sins, and flaws, and mistakes.”