Cardinal Law Said To Be At Death’s Door

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Cardinal Bernard Law, the long-serving archbishop of Boston who resigned under pressure during the height of the clergy-sex-abuse scandal, is “facing his final illness” at a hospital in Rome, according to a well-connected Vatican journalist.

Rocco Palma, who runs the web site Whispers in the Loggia, reported that church officials are in “active preparation for the death” of Law, 86.

According to Palma, Law is expected to be buried in Rome.

While Palma noted that Law’s standing in the United States – and especially in Boston – is “radioactive,” as a cardinal his death will not go unnoted by high-ranking members of the Church. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Law’s successor as archbishop of Boston, will be expected to make a substantive statement and may consider going to Rome to concelebrate the funeral Mass. Pope Francis will also likely send an official message of condolences and, if he follows usual Vatican custom, will participate in Law’s funeral liturgy.

Law was born in Mexico on November 4, 1931. His father was a U.S. Army officer, and his family moved frequently during his childhood.

Law graduated from Harvard College in 1953 and then immediately entered the seminary. After being ordained a priest he had a meteoric rise through the hierarchy. He made bishop at age 42, and then in 1984 he leapfrogged prelates who ran much bigger dioceses to become archbishop of Boston, when he was 52.

While in Boston he developed a reputation for supporting Church teachings on moral matters. He had a devoted following among Spanish-speaking Catholics, many of whom continued to support him even when he became unpopular. He also had an outsized influence on the Catholic Church in America, successfully lobbying for appointments as bishop of many of his aides and associates.

His prominence and power came crashing down in 2002, when The Boston Globe published in January of that year a series of stories showing that Law and key aides knew about certain priests of the archdiocese who had sexually abused children and then covered up their crimes and transferred many of the priests to other parishes, where some of them molested children again.

Law limped through 2002 as archbishop, enduring a public letter signed by 58 priests calling on him to step down. He finally resigned in disgrace in December 2002.

He moved to Rome, where Pope John Paul II gave him a largely ceremonial role just barely befitting a cardinal below retirement age. He participated in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

Law turned 80 in 2011, which is the age when cardinals are no longer allowed to participate in the election of a pope. So he was ineligible to participate in the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis.

Since leaving Boston, Law has spent the vast majority of his time in Rome. He has returned to the United States occasionally, but always quietly.

One example:  He returned to the Boston archdiocese in October 2003 to celebrate the funeral Mass of Father Joseph I. Collins, a longtime friend who served as chaplain at Harvard when Law was a student there. The funeral was at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Norwood.