Cardinal Bernard Law, the former Boston archbishop who was revealed to have played a central role in covering up sexual abuse by pedophile priests, has died at age 86. The Vatican said Law died on December 20, 2017 in Rome after a long illness.
Who Was Cardinal Bernard Law?
Cardinal Bernard Law was appointed archbishop of Boston by Pope John Paul II on January 11, 1984 and installed on March 23, 1984. He held a lot of power within the archdiocese of Boston, which has one of the largest Catholic populations in the United States.
When Law began serving in Boston, he was very popular. He was a likable figure who appeared to be doing what was best for the Church in modern times.
Breakthrough in 2002
While allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests had been whispered about for decades, by 2002 they were front and center in media coverage. That year, a pivotal Boston Globe investigation revealed systemic abuse and a cover-up within the city’s archdiocese.
In Boston, five priests—John Geoghan, John Hanlon, Paul Shanley, Robert V. Gale, and James Talbot—were hit with various charges relating to the sexual assault of children. The Church knew about their predatory behavior and Law was essentially the alleged overseer of the cover-up.
A Shell Game of Priests
Instead of handing over the offending priests to police, the Church reassigned them to different parishes or removed them from service until they were deemed mentally fit to return.
When priests were reassigned, their new parishes weren’t informed of the allegations against them. As a result, many priests were free to re-offend over and over again. In the case of Geoghan, he may have assaulted as many as 130 children.
Inaction Leads to Consequences
Cardinal Bernard Law never faced any legal consequences for his inaction on pedophile priests. However, the Boston archdiocese was sued for over $100.0 million by people who claimed to have been abused.
While the Church would usually rely on insurance companies to settle lawsuits, the companies balked at the astronomical value of the payouts. They argued that the actions of the Church in these cases were deliberate, and therefore they were not covered by insurance.
The Church eventually agreed to pay $85.0 million to settle almost 550 lawsuits.
Law’s Resignation and Relocation
Cardinal Law appeared to suffer very little for what he did. He was never personally sued or convicted of any crime.
He resigned as archbishop of Boston in 2002 and was reassigned to the Vatican, where he was appointed to run a major basilica. Critics condemned the appointment as a reward for the disgraced cardinal.
Cardinal Bernard Law will get a full cardinal’s funeral at the Vatican.