Cardinal Law Dies

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Updated 12/20 4:45 p.m. 

Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the retired archbishop of Boston who resigned at the height of the clergy-sex-abuse scandal, has died in Rome.

Law, 86, died Wednesday morning, after a long illness. He will be buried in Rome.

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the current archbishop of Boston, released a lengthy statement acknowledging the pain of people who suffered from abuse by priests who were allowed to continue ministering in the archdiocese under Law even after they were found to have molested children.

“I recognize that Cardinal Law’s passing brings forth a wide range of emotions on the part of many people. I am particularly cognizant of all who experienced the trauma of sexual abuse by clergy, whose lives were so seriously impacted by those crimes, and their families and loved ones. To those men and women, I offer my sincere apologies for the harm they suffered, my continued prayers and my promise that the Archdiocese will support them in their effort to achieve healing,” O’Malley said in a written statement.

O’Malley sought to balance the headline — the clergy-sex-abuse scandal — with other aspects of Law’s ministry, noting that Law took part in the civil rights movement in Mississippi as a young priest and as archbishop developed warm relationships with Greek Orthodox and Jewish communities in the Boston archdiocese.

“He was well known for visiting the sick, the dying and the bereaved at all hours of the night and day, a ministry that extended to the rich and poor, the young and elderly, and people of all faiths. He also held the care for immigrants and their families in a special place in his ministry,” O’Malley said.

Law served as archbishop of Boston from 1984 until December 2002, when he resigned under immense pressure.

Philip Lawler, author of The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture and who served as editor of The Pilot, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston, when Law was archbishop, said via email that “Cardinal Law was vilified for his treatment of the sex abuse scandal, and understandably so.”

“But his approach was not much different from that of other American bishops who escaped criticism,” Lawler added. “He became the symbol of corruption in the hierarchy, but he was certainly not the cause.” 


Law spent the rest of his life in Rome, including seven years  as archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, a minor position. He retired when he turned 80 in 2011.