Jamaica Gleaner / VATICAN CITY (AP):
Cardinal Bernard Law, the disgraced former archbishop of Boston whose failure to stop child molesters in the priesthood triggered the worst crisis in American Catholicism, died yesterday in Rome at age 86.
Law, who spent his final years in various Vatican posts, had been sick and was recently hospitalised.
Law was once one of the most important figures in the US church, wielding considerable influence inside the Vatican. From 1984 until he resigned under pressure 18 years later, he was spiritual leader in Boston, the nation’s fourth-largest archdiocese, with 1.8 million Catholics.
But in 2002, The Boston Globe began a series of stories that revealed that Law and his predecessors had transferred child-molesting priests from parish to parish without alerting parents or police a scandal later chronicled in the Oscar-winning film Spotlight .
Within months, Catholics around the country demanded to know whether their bishops had done the same.
In Boston, Law’s death was met with bitterness among some.
“I hope the gates of hell are swinging wide to allow him entrance,” said Alexa MacPherson, who says she was abused for six years as a child. “I won’t shed a tear for him. I might shed a tear for everyone who’s been a victim under him.”
Law’s successor as archbishop, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, said it was a “sad reality” that Law’s legacy will forever be tied to the abuse scandal, when the church “seriously failed” to care for its flock and protect children.
Pope Francis, who is being watched closely by the faithful over his handling of bishops who shield paedophiles, is set to preside over Law’s funeral rites at a Mass on Thursday at St Peter’s Basilica, an honour accorded to all Rome-based cardinals.
The pope said nothing about Law’s passing during his weekly general audience yesterday, and in a condolence letter he made no direct mention of the cardinal’s tenure in Boston
“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,” Francis wrote.
Since 1950, more than 6,500 of the nation’s priests, or about six per cent, have been accused of molesting children, and the American church has paid more than $3 billion in settlements, according to news reports and studies commissioned by the US bishops.