Disgraced Former Archbishop Cardinal Bernard Law, Who Fled Boston after the Sexual Abuse Scandal, Dies at Age 86 in Rome
By Michelle Ganney
December 20, 2017
Cardinal Bernard Law, the disgraced former archbishop of Boston, died at the age of 86 in Rome on Tuesday.
Law, whose failures to stop child molesters in the priesthood sparked what would become the worst crisis in American Catholicism, had been sick and was recently hospitalized in Rome.
The official who confirmed the death was not authorized to make the announcement and asked to remain anonymous. The Vatican is expected to make a statement on Wednesday.
Law, who moved to Rome two years after resigning from his position in Boston due to the scandal, was once widely recognized as one of the most important leaders in the U.S. church.
|Cardinal Bernard Law, pictured here on August 5, 2004 at the ceremony for Our Lady of the Snows, in Rome, died at the age of 86 on Tuesday |
He broadly influenced Vatican appointments to American dioceses, helped set priorities for the nation's bishops and was favored by Pope John Paul II.
However, in January 2002, The Boston Globe began a series of reports that used church records to reveal that Law had transferred abusive clergy among parish assignments for years without alerting parents or police.
In 2003 the attorney general's office said the scandal was 'the greatest tragedy to befall children — ever.'
They added 'as archbishop, and therefore chief executive of the archdiocese, Cardinal Bernard Law bears ultimate responsibility for the tragic treatment of children that occurred during his tenure. But by no means does he bear sole responsibility.'
|Law pictured here during the mass celebrated by Pope Francis with the rite of the bishop's ordination in Vatican City on March 19 2016|
|Pope John Paul II blesses pilgrims from his apartment's window at the Vatican, March 30 2005, he died very shortly after this on April 2 |
Apparently the abuse extended over six decades harming 789 children and involving at least 237 priests.
Moreover 48 of those priests were said to have abused children while Law was leader of the Boston archdiocese.
Despite the very serious allegations in 2004, once Law had resigned, Pope John Paul II appointed him archpriest of the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Mary Major, which is when he moved to Rome.
'It is my fervent prayer that this action may help the archdiocese of Boston to experience the healing, reconciliation and unity which are so desperately needed,' Law said when he stepped down as head of the Boston archdiocese in December of that year.
|Law blesses the congregation at the conclusion of a mass he celebrated at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Mission Church in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, 10 May, 2002|
'To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes, I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness.'
It was a stunning fall from grace for Law and a rare step for the church, which deeply resists public pressure but could no longer do so given the scope of the crisis.
Since 1950, more than 6,500 U.S. priests have been accused of molesting children, and the American church has paid more than $3 billion in settlements to victims, according to studies and media reports.
Key dates in the life of Cardinal Bernard Law
November 4, 1931: Bernard Law is born in Torreon, Mexico; the only child of a U.S. Air Force colonel and a mother who converted to Roman Catholicism from Presbyterianism.
1953: Law graduates from Harvard University with a degree in medieval history.
1961: Law is ordained as a priest.
1968: Law takes a job at the ecumenical office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
1973: Law is named bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Missouri.
January 1984: Law becomes archbishop of Boston.
1985: The Vatican elevates Law to cardinal.
1998: Law travels to Cuba to support Catholics in the communist island nation.
1999: Law leads a delegation of Catholic and Jewish leaders to Israel.
January 2002: The Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal explodes when defrocked priest John Geoghan is accused of molesting 130 children; documents show Law and other church officials knew of the alleged abuse, yet gave Geoghan new parish assignments.
December 13, 2002: Law resigns as archbishop; an earlier attempt to resign was rejected by Pope John Paul II.
2003: A report by the Massachusetts attorney general says more than 1,000 children may have been molested by more than 250 priests and church workers from 1940 to 2000.
February 2003: Law moves into a convent in Clinton, Maryland, owned by the Sisters of Mercy of Alma, a conservative order of nuns based in Michigan.
July 1, 2003: Pope John Paul II names Bishop Sean O'Malley as the new archbishop of Boston.
May 27, 2004: The Vatican names Law archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome.
April 11, 2005: Despite being disgraced, Law leads a Mass for thousands at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome to mourn the death of Pope John Paul II.
November 21, 2011: Law retires as an archpriest in Rome.
December 20, 2017: Law dies at age 86 in Rome