Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who resigned as Archbishop of Boston amid the 2002 “Spotlight” pedophilia scandal, died in Rome Wednesday at age 86.
Law resigned from the position of Archbishop of Boston in December 2002, keeping the title of cardinal, when the Boston Globe Spotlight team revealed that Law had protected and transferred priests who abused children, including the infamous former priest John J. Geoghan. Law left the archdiocese facing 500 lawsuits and possible bankruptcy in the wake of the scandal and lived out the remainder of his days in Rome, where he helped shape the hierarchy of the American Catholic church for years, according to The New York Times.
“It was his very great strength and love for the church that ultimately kind of impaired his judgement about what was best for the church itself,” R. Scott Appleby, professor of Catholic history at the University of Notre Dame, told TheNYT.
Law was the highest ranking American Catholic church leader deposed in the legal cases of the Boston church abuse scandal. He first came under scrutiny when a judge released documents concerning then priest and accused child molester Geoghan, showing that Law was transferring him to another parish. Law apologized publicly in response to the release of the documents and said that he based his initial decision concerning Geoghan on faulty psychiatric reports. Hundreds of victims came forward afterward to accuse various priests in the archdiocese of child sexual abuse, and Law cooperated with law enforcement to the extent of providing the names of 80 church leaders accused of sexual abuse, but remained vague about the details of each case.
A plaintiff’s lawyer, however, released information from the personnel file of Rev. Paul R. Stanley, which showed that Law knew of a dozen accusations of sexual abuse against Stanley but protected him and continued to allow Stanley to be in contact with children. Many in the church called for Law’s resignation, including the lay group Voice of the Faithful and a group of 60 priests who signed a letter calling for Law to step down. Law resigned in disgrace shortly afterward and flew to Rome, where Pope John Paul II accepted his resignation.
Law remained in church leadership for the remainder of his days after the scandal. He became known as a kind of “kingmaker” for American bishops, and many of the candidates he supported still lead the American Catholic church, according to TheNYT. John Paul II also appointed Law to be high priest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, one of the four most prestigious churches in Rome. Law helped preside at the funeral mass for John Paul II and was one of the cardinals who elected his successor, Pope Bendedict XVI.
Before the sex abuse scandal, Law’s supporters thought he might be the next American pope. Law was known for his staunch adherence to conservative orthodoxy, his efforts to seek racial reconciliation during and after the Civil Rights movement, and his role in international politics. He continued serving and wielding global influence within the Catholic church, despite the fact that the Boston sex abuse scandal all but destroyed his public reputation.
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