Only the Almighty Knows Law’s Fate
By Peter Gelzinis
December 21, 2017
|JUDGMENT DAY: Cardinal Bernard Law prays in Rome during a 2011 Mass. The former head of the Archdiocese of Boston died Tuesday at the age of 86.|
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”
To grow up Catholic is to have those words burned into your consciousness by the age of seven. When I recited them for the first time, I was kneeling in the dark, confessing what few sins I could imagine to a voice on the other side of an opaque window.
But I still recall feeling “cleansed” when the priest forgave my childish sins and told me to say three “Hail Marys” and a good Act of Contrition.
In time, Catholics come to understand that the sacrament of penance, or confession, is actually a dress rehearsal for Judgment Day, when we will all have to come clean for real before the Lord.
For Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, Judgment Day arrived Tuesday, when at age 86, he departed the splendid banishment of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.
Exactly where he now dwells in the afterlife — heaven, hell or purgatory — none of us can say. But among a sprawling community of victims, sexually abused in silence by priests who were quietly shuttled around various parishes in Boston for decades, Bernard Law most likely rests in a place of eternal torment, where he cannot take refuge behind lawyers or non-disclosure agreements.
As a prince of the church, you can’t say you didn’t know. Or I thought I was doing the right thing. Or we couldn’t have the whole archdiocese knowing about this stuff.
Bernard Law had a Harvard degree. God is certainly aware of that. It’s one thing to try to play Mickey The Dunce down here, as he managed to do for years. It’s quite another to try to play that card with the Almighty.
God is simply not going to buy that.
Cardinal Law was essentially forced to resign as leader of the Archdiocese of Boston in 2002, saying that in leaving he hoped that the local church “would experience the healing, reconciliation and unity which are so desperately needed.
“To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes, I both apologize to them and beg forgiveness.”
Do you suppose that Law echoed those words when his moment of Judgment arrived? More importantly, do you think the Lord simply accepted them at face value without ever asking, “What were you thinking?”
How exactly do you begin to beg for forgiveness, or apologize for quietly moving serial child abusers in Roman collars from one parish to another?
I wonder if Bernie Law was called to answer for the vanity of using his position in the Boston power structure of the ’80s and ’90s — the Beacon Hill big shot that he cultivated, rather than the simple man of the cloth.
After all, there was a time he moved easily among governors, senate presidents and mayors. I recall seeing what seemed like half of Beacon Hill and a fair amount of City Hall journeying to Rome to behold Pope John Paul II elevate Law to Cardinal.
On Tuesday, it was just Cardinal Bernard Francis Law before the God he served all his adult life. Perhaps he found a God of grace and mercy, slow to anger and brimming in loving kindness, which was more than the victims of his pedophile priests found.
But before you shake your head, remember: We will all hope to face that same loving God some day.