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By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters)

Cardinal Bernard Law, the former Archbishop of Boston who resigned in disgrace after covering up years of sexual abuse of children by priests and whose name became a byword for scandal in the Catholic Church, died on Wednesday

The Vatican announced his death just before dawn.

It did not give a cause of death but sources close to Law, who died in a hospital in Rome, said he had been suffering from the complications of diabetes, liver failure and a build-up of fluids around the heart, known as pericardial effusion.

 

Cardinal Bernard Law (C) after Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, April 21, 2002
Cardinal Bernard Law (C) after Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, April 21, 2002. REUTERS

 

The telegram of condolences Pope Francis sent to the dean of the College of Cardinals was unusually short and bland compared to those for other cardinals before.

Francis said he was praying that the merciful God would “welcome him in eternal peace.” The pope did not mention that Law had been Archbishop of Boston and a brief Vatican biography made no mention of the circumstances of his resignation 15 years ago.

 

Cardinal Bernard Law waves to the faithful at the end of a ceremony for Our Lady of the Snows, in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome
Cardinal Bernard Law waves to the faithful at the end of a ceremony for Our Lady of the Snows, in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, August 5, 2004. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/

 

Law was Archbishop of Boston, one of the most prestigious and wealthy American archdioceses, for 18 years when Pope John Paul reluctantly accepted his resignation on Dec. 13, 2002, after a tumultuous year in Church history.

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.

 

 

“No words can convey the pain these survivors and their loved ones suffered,” SNAP, a victims’ group, said.

“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 said in a statement.

 

Cardinal Bernard Law looks thoughtful during the ceremony for Our Lady of the Snows, in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome
Cardinal Bernard Law looks thoughtful during the ceremony for Our Lady of the Snows, in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, August 5, 2004. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/

 

Law’s resignation sent shockwaves through the American Church and had a trickle down effect around the world as the cover-up techniques used in Boston were discovered to have been used in country after country.

The story of how the Globe team brought the scandal to light in a city where few wanted to cross the politically powerful Church was told in the 2015 film “Spotlight“, which won the Oscar for Best Picture.

 

U.S. Boston Cardinal Bernard Law gestures as he arrives at Rome's Fiumicino Airport
U.S. Boston Cardinal Bernard Law gestures as he arrives at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport April 22, 2002. REUTERS/Paulo Cocco/

 

The situation in Boston turned out to be the tip of an iceberg of abuse and its cover-up, where churchmen preferred protecting the reputation of the institution rather than the innocence of children.

Thousands of cases came to light around the world as investigations encouraged long-silent victims to go public, shattering the Church’s reputation in places such as Ireland, and forcing it to pay some $2 billion in compensation.

 

Pope John Paul II looks on as he receives Boston's embattled Cardinal Bernard Law at his private library in the Vatican
Pope John Paul II looks on as he receives Boston’s embattled Cardinal Bernard Law at his private library in the Vatican December 13, 2002. REUTERS/Vatican/

 

“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,” Law’s successor in Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, said in a statement.

Six months after his resignation, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office announced that Law and others would not face criminal charges.

 

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