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Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned amid abuse scandal, dead at 86

December 20, 2017

Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned as Archbishop of Boston in 2002 under the impact of the sex-abuse scandal, died in Rome early on December 20, at the age of 86.

Cardinal Law stepped down after a series of investigative reports by the Boston Globe revealed that he had covered up evidence of sexual abuse by Boston priests. Although later revelations showed that many other American bishops had done the same, Cardinal Law remained a symbolic figure of the sex-abuse scandal.

After leaving the Boston archdiocese, the cardinal had served briefly as a chaplain for women religious in Maryland, before being given a controversial appointment as archpriest of the Roman basilica of St. Mary Major. He resigned from that post in 2011, when he reached his 80th birthday.

Born in Mexico, where his father was temporarily stationed as a military officer, Bernard Law graduated from Harvard College in 1953 before entering the seminary. He was ordained in the Diocese of Natchez, Mississippi. In 1973 he became Bishop of the Springfield-Cape Giradeau diocese in Missouri. He was named to the Boston archdiocese in 1984, and elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II in 1985. Among his other significant accomplishments, he introduced the proposal for preparation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In acknowledging the death of Cardinal Law, Pope Francis appeared to recognize the controversy that continued to surround the American prelate. Rather than praising the deceased cardinal for his achievements, the Pontiff said: “I raise prayers for the repose of his soul, that the Lord, God who is rich in mercy, may welcome him in His eternal peace.”

In Boston, Law’s successor, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, also recognized the likelihood of renewed controversy. “It is a sad reality that for many Cardinal Law’s life and ministry is identified with one overwhelming reality, the crisis of sexual abuse by priests,” he said.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, will be the principal celebrant at a funeral in Rome for Cardinal Law. Pope Francis will preside over the final rites. The cardinal will be buried in Rome.

With the death of Cardinal Law there are now 216 living members of the College of Cardinals, of whom 120 are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a papal election. There are 14 living American cardinals, of whom 9 are eligible electors.


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