By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The funeral of Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned as Archbishop of Boston 15 years ago after covering up years of sexual abuse of children by priests, was held in the Vatican on Thursday without a mention of what led to his downfall.
About 200 people attended the funeral Mass in a chapel in the apse of St. Peter's Basilica and presided over by a senior cardinal, Angelo Sodano. The wooden coffin lay on the floor with an open book of the gospels resting on it.
Pope Francis entered the chapel for a few minutes after the Mass to bless the coffin and conduct a brief service known as the Final Commendation and Farewell - which he does for all cardinals who die in Rome.
"He dedicated his whole life to the Church," Sodano said in his homily in praise of Law, who died on Wednesday.
Sodano listed the stages of Law's clerical life and said the late Pope John Paul had "called him to Rome" to be archpriest of a Rome basilica. But Sodano made no mention of the reason why he left Boston.
"Unfortunately, each of us can sometimes be lacking in our mission," Sodano said.
The pope read out a Latin prayer, part of which reads: "May he be given a merciful judgement".
About 15 cardinals attended, though not Law's successor in Boston, Cardinal Sean O'Malley. O'Malley said on Wednesday that Law served at a time "when the Church failed seriously in its responsibilities ..."
Law was Archbishop of Boston for 18 years when he resigned on Dec. 13, 2002, climaxing a tumultuous year that sparked the greatest crisis in the history of the American Catholic Church.
A succession of devastating news stories by Boston Globe reporters showed how priests who sexually abused children had been moved from parish to parish for years under Law's tenure without parishioners or law authorities being informed.
Victims groups have expressed outrage that Law's funeral was being in St. Peter's and that he would be buried in a crypt in a chapel of the Rome Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where he served as archpriest.
"Survivors of child sexual assault in Boston, who were first betrayed by Law's cover-up of sex crimes and then doubly betrayed by his subsequent promotion to Rome, were those most hurt," SNAP, a victim's group, said in a statement on Wednesday.
After Pope Francis left Thursday's funeral, two nuns in brown robes knelt by the coffin and arched over it to pray.
After the funeral, Cardinal Franc Rode of Slovenia praised Law as "a good man with good intentions".
"All these provisions about paedophilia were not as severe as they are now so one can't say that he made that many mistakes," Rode told Reuters Television, saying it was "another era". He did not elaborate.
About a half dozen ambassadors attended. The United States' official representative was Louis Bono, the current chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican.
U.S. Ambassador-designate Callista Gingrich and her husband Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House of Representatives, attended in a private capacity. Callista Gingrich officially becomes ambassador on Friday.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Mark Heinrich)