US Cardinals Comment on the Death of Cardinal Law
– by Brian Mark Hennessy of the Comboni Survivor Group
The recent death of Cardinal Law in Rome brought back to the fore the inescapable subject of Law’s infamous cover up of clergy sexual abuse of children in the Archdiocese of Boston. There he transferred abusive clerics from pillar to post within the diocese and created injurious suffering to the lives of even more youthful victims than had been inflicted hitherto. The Vatican did not comment immediately upon the death of Law and even Pope Francis failed to mention his passing at a public briefing – perhaps unable to find the appropriate words so soon after the news had broken. Indeed, it was left to the US Bishops to comment first.
Cardinal O’Malley, Law’s successor at Boston who ended up paying out $85million to 552 victims, concluded his statement on the death of Cardinal Law by acknowledging again the pain and anguish that had been caused by the sexual-abuse scandal and Law’s own role in that failure. “As archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law served at a time when the Church failed seriously in its responsibilities to provide pastoral care for her people, and with tragic outcomes failed to care for the children of our parish communities. I deeply regret that reality and its consequences,” he said.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a press statement said, “Entrusting his soul to the mercy of Christ, I echo the statement released by Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston and offer my prayers and condolences to the family and friends of Cardinal Law. Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord”. DiNardo continued, “At this time, especially, we keep close in our prayer the brave survivors of sexual abuse. Their witness would lead to a comprehensive response from the Church in the United States to protect and heal the deep wounds of abuse. I pray they may find strength and peace in the mercy of Christ.”
Law’s ultimate shame was perhaps being subpoenaed to appear before a US Grand Jury for the investigaton of “possible Criminal violations by a Church official who supervised priests accused of sexually abusing children.” Law resigned as Archbishop subsequently on 13th December 2002. There-on-in, he was removed to Rome with a role in the appointment of new Bishops.
Inadvisably perhaps, Pope John Paul II created for Law an appointment with the rank of Archpriest of the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. That appointment sparked a goodly degree of outrage both in the United States and Italy – as well as around the globe. It was seen as an inappropriate reward for a cleric who had been so reckless in his disregard of the children whom he had placed in danger. On his 80th birthday, Law retired from the post and faded quietly – and perhaps willingly – into the background of Ecclesiastical Vatican life.
What epitaph will be engraved on Cardinal Law’s tombstone, I cannot imagine. Probably, it will be something quite simple – such as: “Here lies Bernard Law, Former Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, Born 1931- Died 2017, RIP”. Anything much else in celebration of his life would seem to be either too controversial or inappropriate. It is best that he is interred without any lavish ceremonial. We all make mistakes, of course, but Law’s were catastrophic for so many children.