Bernard Law, Former Archbishop of Boston, Dies at Age 86

December 20, 2017

Bernard Law, the former Archbishop of Boston who resigned in disgrace during the clergy sex abuse scandal, has died at age 86 in Rome.

The Vatican released a brief statement Tuesday night confirming his death: “Cardinal Bernard Law died early this morning after a long illness.”

Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley released a statement on the death of his predecessor Wednesday morning.

“I recognize that Cardinal Law’s passing brings forth a wide range of emotions on the part of many people. 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. 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,” Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley said in a statement. “As Archbishop of Boston, 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. I deeply regret that reality and its consequences.”

In a statement, Pope Francis expressed condolences to the College of Cardinals, adding may God "who is rich in mercy" welcome him in his eternal peace.

“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,” his statement read in part.

For all his brilliance, attainments and good works, Law’s legacy was tarnished by his handling of the scandal.

"I am indeed profoundly sorry,” he had said.

In the end, he accepted the moral responsibility for the behavior of the rogue priests who ravaged his archdiocese. And he acknowledged that it was his own errors of judgment that fanned the gravest moral questions to beset his institution since the Reformation.

"I wish to apologize once again for the harm done to victims of sexual abuse by priests,” he said.

That atonement did not come until after much damage had been done and the weight of it all was, for him, crushing.

“It's the most difficult thing that I have ever faced in my whole life,” he said.

The irony was keen for this proud and committed man, whose allegiance to the traditions and teachings of his church were so unswerving.

Church pundits were hardly surprised when he was named to succeed Cardinal Medeiros in January 1984, becoming the 8th bishop of Boston.

At his installation -- in his very first official appearance as archbishop -- he laid down the gauntlet on the issue of abortion.

"This is the cloud that shrouds the conscience of the world,” he said.

Secular media critics termed him controversial, but he could not have cared less.

"I want to be a faithful bishop,” he said. “I want to be a faithful teacher. Uh, if in the doing of that, some would call you ‘controversial,’ then so be it."

After being sent to Boston, John Paul made him a cardinal about as swiftly as was possible. And thereafter, complete access to the innards of Vatican power and influence were ever open to Bernard Law.

At his height, Law was widely regarded to be America's most influential prelate.

By every such measure, the pedophilia scandals that shattered his regime, leaving him stripped of authority and respect, were made more dramatic. Nor did his efforts to atone, rectify, even apologize, register with much effect.

"Becoming an object of contempt for many people -- the distrust, um the anger. All of that is bad enough,” he said. “But then added to that was the knowledge that Boston and I personally, have been responsible for placing upon the bishops of this country an added burden. And I apologize to them for that."

In the end, the harm that occurred under his watch may take a generation to gauge, let alone redeem.

The Vatican said Law's funeral would be held in St. Peter's Basilica Thursday with Mass celebrated by the Dean of the College of Cardinals Angelo Sodano. Pope Francis will preside over rite of final commendation.








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