Cardinal Bernard Law, RIP: seeking a balanced perspective
The late Cardinal Bernard Law was not the ogre that his many detractors make him out to be. It is appalling to see abuse victims celebrating his death and cursing his memory, with the gleeful encouragement of the Boston media.
Nor was he the stalwart Church leader his remaining defenders would like to remember. It is edifying, in a way, to see the valiant efforts to revive his tattered reputation. But it is a hopeless cause. Cardinal Law was demonstrably guilty of, at least, gross negligence and dishonesty (probably including perjury) in his handling of the sex-abuse crisis. He presided over a corrupt archdiocese.
But the corruption in Boston was not unique, and what Cardinal Law did (or failed to do) was not markedly different from what was done by dozens of other American bishops. He became the poster boy for the sex-abuse scandal in the US, because of the relentless investigative reporting of the Boston Globe. But he was not the cause of the scandal—which was simmering, unnoticed, long before he arrived in Boston.
Cardinal Law is now beyond the reach of his accusers. And his friends, at this point, could do him more good by praying for his soul than by attempting to defend the indefensible.
My further reflections on Cardinal Law’s death are available now on the First Things site. For a fuller account of the tragedy in Boston, and how it reflected a grave problem throughout the American Catholic Church, see my book, The Faithful Departed—described by the late Father Richard John Neuhaus as “the best book-length treatment of the sex-abuse crisis, its origins and larger implications, published to date.”
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