Disgraced Boston Cardinal Bernard Law Dead At 86

Cardinal Bernard Law

Cardinal Law at a press conference announcing his resignation on Dec. 16, 2002. (Photo by Douglas McFadd/Getty Images)

BOSTON (WBZ-AM/AP) -- Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, the former Archbishop of Boston who resigned in disgrace following the Catholic church sex abuse scandal, is dead at 86.

From 1984 to 2002, Law was head of the Boston Archdiocese. He was ordained as a priest in 1961.

Court documents found that Law and other church leaders had moved guilty clergy from parish to parish in Massachusetts without alerting parents or police. 

Abuse survivor Phil Saviano told WBZ NewsRadio that, when he thinks of Law, he thinks of wasted opportunity.

"He was so smart," Saviano said. "He had so much power. There's so much good he could have done. He squandered it to watch over these couple hundred child-molesting priests."

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who focuses on representing the victims and survivors of sexual abuse and who represented many of those Law's priests abused, said Law was a figurehead that represented the worst of the church.

"Bernard Law was a standard-bearer for all that was wrong within the Catholic church and pedophilia," Garabedian said. "Many victims are in pain because of Bernard Cardinal Law."

A statement from Law's successor as Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, acknowledged that a "wide range of emotions" would be felt upon news of Law's death.

"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," O'Malley wrote. "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."

Walter Robinson, who led a team of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe whose stories and reporting brought the scandal to light, told WBZ-TV Law's death would surely bring back painful memories for many.

"His passing will be greeted by most people with a bit of a shrug of the shoulders," he said. "The announcement of his death inevitably is going to remind people of a terribly horrific, sad moment in the history of the American church, of which he became an emblematic figure."

Law resigned amid a public uproar over his actions on December 16, 2002. 

"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," O'Malley wrote. "I deeply regret that reality and its consequences."

O'Malley said it was "a sad reality" that, for many, O'Malley's legacy was the sexual abuse by priests, because, he said, his legacy had "many other dimensions"--he noted Law's work toward civil rights in Mississippi, as well as his work in the ecumenical and interfaith movements.

"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," O'Malley wrote. "He also held the care for immigrants and their families in a special place in his ministry."

Others told WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Carl Stevens outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End that they were conflicted by his complicated legacy.

"I remember a man that looked like he had a lot of potential, was leading the church in the right direction, and then totally mishandled the priest abuse scandal," said one man. "I was also disappointed in the fact that the church is still dealing with this."

Vatican officials later appointed Law to run a major basilica in Rome. Critics condemned the appointment as a reward for the cardinal.

Garabedian said many of his clients feel upset, because Law's name, title, and position is a reminder of the abuse they suffered.

"This is a very painful time for many of my clients, and for many victims," Garabedian said. "This gives them the opposite of closure. It really reopens wounds, it prevents healing."

He said that "dozens and dozens" of abuse survivors are still coming forward within the Boston Archdiocese.

John Allen, editor of independent Catholic news site Crux, told WBZ NewsRadio from Rome that, for those most concerned about clerical sexual abuse, Law's death will not be seen as turning a page, but as a reminder of the work still to be done.

"The advocates of reform in the church will be worried that some will see the death of Law as a kind of closure, when in totality, there's a great deal of unfinished business in terms of recovery from the scandal," he said.

Law had recently been hospitalized in Rome, and he will be buried there, Roman Catholic commentator Rocco Palmo told WBZ NewsRadio 1030.

"Plans for the funeral will be the standard funeral for a Cardinal who lives in Rome," Palmo said. "It always takes place in St. Peter's Basilica, in the back of St. Peter's Basilica, what's called the Altar of the Chair."

Allen said it will likely happen without great fanfare.

“My guess would be that in this case, it will happen without great ceremony, and that will be the end of the story,” he said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Ben Parker reports

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