Cardinal Law Resigns
Sex Abuse Scandal Claims Highest-Ranking Cleric
By Alan Cooperman and Pamela Ferdinand
Washington Post - Friday, December 13, 2002
Nearly a year after the scandal over clergy sexual abuse erupted
in his archdiocese, Bostons Cardinal Bernard F. Law resigned
today, apologizing for his mistakes and saying he hoped his departure
would usher in a period of healing.
Law tendered his resignation in a morning meeting with Pope John
Paul II at the Vatican, and it was immediately accepted, the Vatican
announced. Auxiliary Bishop Richard G. Lennon, a relative newcomer
to Boston who is untainted by the scandal, was appointed as a temporary
administrator until the pope chooses a new archbishop.
It is my fervent prayer that this action may help the Archdiocese
of Boston to experience the healing, reconciliation and unity which
are so desperately needed, Law said in a written statement.
To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes,
I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness.
Laws resignation came after steadily increasing evidence
that he failed to remove sexually abusive priests and with his archdiocese
teetering on bankruptcy under the burden of hundreds of lawsuits
by alleged victims.
There was no immediate word on what Law, 71, the most senior Roman
Catholic prelate in the United States and the archbishop of Boston
since 1984, will do next. But church experts said he would almost
certainly remain a cardinal and could be named to a post at the
Vatican. His statement said the particular circumstances of
this time suggest a quiet departure.
Although several U.S. bishops have been forced to retire because
of the sexual abuse scandal, Law is the first to resign because
of his mishandling of the problem, without being personally implicated
in sexual misconduct.
Laws brief statement did not explain why he was stepping
down now, after months of demands by sexual abuse victims for his
resignation. He had offered to resign at least once before, in an
April visit to the Vatican, but said afterward that the pope had
encouraged him to stay on and that he wanted to be part of
the solution to the scandal.
Since the beginning of December, however, Laws remaining
support among Bostons 2 million Catholics crumbled as the
archdiocese considered filing for bankruptcy, a judge ordered the
release of 11,000 pages of church files on sexual misconduct by
priests, and prosecutors sent Law a subpoena to appear before a
grand jury in a widening criminal investigation of the archdiocese.
Perhaps the most damaging in this series of final straws,
said the Rev. Robert Bullock, head of the 250-member Boston Priests
Forum, was a letter from 58 Boston-area priests calling for Law
to resign. The priests and people of Boston have lost confidence
in you as their spiritual leader, it said.
In a week of accelerating events, Laws subpoena was delivered
last Friday. On Saturday, he flew to Rome, canceling his weekend
appearances in Boston without explanation.
The priests letter arrived at his empty residence on Monday.
Two days later, leaders of the 25,000-member lay group Voice of
the Faithful, which previously had refrained from criticizing Law,
voted overwhelmingly to urge for his resignation.
And on Thursday, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly told
a press conference that although it is not yet clear whether prosecutors
will be able to bring criminal charges against leaders of the Boston
archdiocese, there is abundant evidence that those leaders engaged
in a years-long cover-up of sexual abuse by priests.
The church cared more about itself than it cared about kids,
said Reilly, a Catholic.
Donna Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said today
that Law will meet all of his legal obligations, including the subpoena.
Holding back tears, Morrissey told reporters that Law was doing
OK. Hes always been steadily concerned with what was in the
best interests of the archdiocese of Boston.
Boston was in an uproar today over Laws resignation. Both
of the citys newspapers ran Extras and television
stations were live with the story all morning. And although the
cardinals critics--including many alleged victims--were pleased,
a tone of subdued sadness permeated the city, one of Americas
bastions of Catholicism where many residents identify themselves
by parish rather than by neighborhood.
Law remains a defendant in the hundreds of civil lawsuits but it
will now be up to Lennon, the temporary administrator, to decide
whether the Boston archdiocese should file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy
protection to try to force a global settlement of those suits.
Lennon, 55, has been rector of St. Johns Seminary in Brighton,
Mass., since 1999 and was ordained a bishop last year. He said today
that he would resign the seminary post and do all I can with
the help of the bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity of
the archdiocese, to work towards healing the wounds left by
James E. Post, president of Voice of the Faithful, noted that Lennon
has met several times with abuse victims. That gives us hope
because if you look at what lies ahead, theres no quality
more important to the healing process than the ability to listen
and to have a genuine conversation with people of the archdiocese,
As a relatively new bishop, however, Lennon does not appear to
be in the running to become Bostons next cardinal. Among the
likely candidates for the post, according to church experts, are
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., the president of the
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Archbishop Harry Flynn of St.
Paul-Minneapolis, who heads the conferences Ad Hoc Committee
on Sexual Abuse; and Archbishop Edwin F. OBrien, head of the
vicariate of the U.S. Military Services.
Although Vatican officials said Law raised the possibility of bankruptcy
during his discussions in Rome this week, it is unclear whether
the Vatican gave its approval.
Plaintiffs lawyers have said they believe the talk of Chapter 11
is a bluff intended to pressure victims into accepting smaller settlements
and dissuade them from bringing further lawsuits.
But bankruptcy would open the archdioceses books, turn over
control of its finances to a civil court, bring shame on the church
and depart from the Vaticans worldwide policy of financial
independence from governments.
Laws resignation could help avoid all that, said Patrick
Schiltz, an associate dean of the University of St. Thomas Law School
in Minneapolis, Minn., who has represented many U.S. dioceses in
sexual abuse lawsuits.
Ive negotiated hundreds of settlements in clergy misconduct
cases, and unlike a typical commercial case, they are emotional
events, not just financial events, Schiltz said. The
victims in Boston just dont trust Cardinal Law, and many of
them have personalized their anger on Cardinal Law. Whether thats
right or wrong, its been an obstacle to settlement.
Several plaintiffs lawyers said, however, that they will
continue to pursue lawsuits and file new ones.
Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer for scores of alleged victims of
the former priest and convicted pedophile John Geoghan, said that
just because Bernard Cardinal Law resigns doesnt mean
everythings OK now. Theres enormous rot, enormous decay
in the archdiocese of Boston. Now it has to cleanse itself.
Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused
by Priests, said she hoped that prosecutors, the media and the public
would now focus on New Yorks Cardinal Edward Egan, Los Angeles
Cardinal Roger Mahony and Laws former deputies -- all
of whom have done what Law himself has done, but who have avoided
proper scrutiny largely because Law himself has become such a lightning
rod. But she stopped short of calling for those prelates to
One of Geoghans alleged victims, Patrick McSorley, said Laws
resignation is a little too late, but at least now we know
we can start anew. I dont want to hear anymore about anymore
little kids being victimized by any more priests.
Ferdinand reported from Boston.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company