Published: Wed, December 20, 2017
Culture | By Stewart Greene

Who Is Bernard Law? Cardinal Who Covered Up Clergy's Sex Abuse Dies

Who Is Bernard Law? Cardinal Who Covered Up Clergy's Sex Abuse Dies

But it was the horrific priest sexual abuse scandal here at home that destroyed him, creating a profound anger towards the cardinal and the church.

He apologized during Sunday Mass. Facing potential criminal charges in the USA, in 2004, Law was called to Rome and given a parish to lead, which he did until his retirement in 2011. He retired in 2011.

Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, the controversial former leader of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, died Wednesday in Rome. Amid a groundswell against the cardinal, including rare public rebukes from some of his own priests, Law asked to resign and the pope said yes.

The scandal started with the case of John Geoghan, a defrocked priest accused by more than 130 people of molesting them during his 30 years as a Boston area priest.

Law was the highest-ranking official in the history of the U.S. church to leave office in public disgrace.

Following his resignation, Law remained with the church. At the age of 42, Law was made a bishop.

Vatican officials later appointed Law to run a major basilica in Rome.

"And you Bernard, my cardinal, my prince of the church, my shepherd, my father in Christ, how long have I hungered at your indifferent door for a crumb of compassion, justice, or mercy?"

He attended schools in north and south America and graduated from Harvard College in 1953. He was ordained as a priest in the Natchez-Jackson, Mississippi, diocese on May 21, 1961 and became vicar general of the Natchez-Jackson diocese in 1971.

Law was a prominent voice in MA and beyond, especially as abortion. After a post with the national bishops' conference, he was named bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Missouri, then archbishop of Boston in 1984, a prominent appointment to the country's fourth-largest diocese. He publicly challenged public officials such as Gov. William Weld and Lt. Gov. Paul Cellucci over their support for abortion rights.

Within the church, he was devoted to building Catholic-Jewish relations, including leading a delegation of Jewish and other MA leaders in a 1986 visit to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.

However, Law's legacy has been overshadowed by the scandal. The scandal reverberated through the church, exposing similar allegations worldwide that compromised its moral authority and led to years of multimillion-dollar settlements.

It was a deep fall for Law, who had been warmly welcomed as a bishop of great promise when he arrived to take over the Boston archdiocese in 1984. The archdiocese paid $10 million in settlements with 86 of his victims and their relatives as Law was clinging to his job.

Law was also known for strict adherence to the letter of church law and his unbending ways looked hypocritical to some, in light of extensive efforts to hide abuse by his priests.

Zoll contributed to this story from NY.

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