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Cardinal Law Quits

Dec 13, 2002 | The Boston Herald

Cardinal Bernard Law's resignation as Archbishop of Boston, accepted by the pope today, "is only the beginning," said one of the 58 priests who urged Law to step down earlier this week.

Victims of priest sexual abuse are the first priority, restoring faith in the Catholic church is next, the Rev. Frank J. Silva, pastor of St. Ann's Church in Wayland said this morning.

"It will be a long time until we can fully recover," said Father Silva. "We're only going to be as strong as the weakest person in the pew."

As word of Law's resignation reverberated this morning, Silva agreed that his call for Law's resignation, along with other top priests in the diocese, "carried a lot of weight."

"Things have reached such a fevered pitch," he added, saying Law needed to resign in order for the church to heal.

The Vatican said Pope John Paul II accepted Law's resignation after the two men met this morning. The pope named Bishop Richard Lennon, an auxiliary bishop in Boston, to run the diocese temporarily.

"I am profoundly grateful to the Holy Father for having accepted my resignation as archbishop of Boston," Law said in a written statement released by the Vatican.

"It is my fervent prayer that this action may help the archdiocese of Boston to experience the healing, reconciliation and unity which are so desperately needed."

"To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes, I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness," Law wrote.

The region awoke to the stunning news of Law's resignation this morning. Press conferences, from the archdiocese to lawyers and from the Voice of the Faithful, are scheduled throughout the day.

Mary Ellen Siudut, a member of Natick's Voice of the Faithful, was told of Law's resignation by The News today.

"Wonderful. Excellent," said Siudut. "We need to heal. I hope someone will come in who is caring for victims. Our trust of priests has been lost."

Siudut, who was forced to hold her meetings in the basement of the local library because Law banned her group from the local church, said this crisis will go down in history as a defining moment for this generation.

"This is similar for our generation as the Vietnam War was," Siudut said this morning. "The war caused people to lose trust in the government. For our generation, the same thing has happened with the church."

Rodney Ford, whose son was the victim of alleged sexual abuse by a priest, said Law's resignation is a step in the right direction.

"We didn't force Cardinal Law out. He forced himself out," Ford told WHDH-TV this morning. "This was not our intent for anybody else to be destroyed by this. The church is going to start a new beginning and it will start today."

Greg Ford, of Newton, was one of the 10 boys allegedly abused by the former Rev. Paul Shanley.

Ford's lawyer, Roderick MacLeish Jr., praised the pope for accepting Law's resignation.

"The Holy See is doing the right thing," MacLeish said. "This is not a day of celebration. This is not a day of happiness. Everybody's thoughts are with the hundreds of children who lost their innocence because they trusted an institution the betrayed them.

"Today's resignation is not the end of the story," he added.

Law is the highest ranking church figure brought down by the current scandal. In April, he offered to resign in a meeting with the pope, but the pontiff rejected the idea.

Abuse victims, lay members and dozens of priests had intensified calls for Law's removal after 18 years at the helm of the Boston archdiocese, as more cases of sordid conduct by priests were brought to light with the release of church files.

Law had been at the Vatican all week, but largely kept out of the public eye. The cardinal slipped quietly away from Boston last weekend to begin a round of meetings with top officials at the Vatican over his and his archdiocese's fate.

Law has been accused of having shuffled from parish to parish priests who were accused, often repeatedly, of sexually abusing minors.

Recent days have been marked by some of the most shocking revelations in the year-old scandal in Boston, with the release of thousands of pages of the archdiocese's personnel files.

Victims have accused Law of being more mindful of his personal reputation than honestly dealing with the scandal, and dozens of priests under his command demanded he step down.

The Boston archdiocese is also facing enormous payments in settlements with sex abuse victims, and the Vatican may decide whether the local church should declare bankruptcy to protect itself from creditors.

Law's temporary replacement, Lennon, offered prayers for the victims of sex abuse and pledged Friday "to work towards healing as a church and furthering the mission of Jesus Christ within our community.

"I am thankful for the good works that his Eminence Cardinal Law accomplished in his service to us as archbishop and for the friendship that I have enjoyed with him," Lennon said in a statement. "I ask for prayers for him as he continues his life in service to the church."

There have been several other resignations in the scandal, including an archbishop in the pope's native Poland, but they have been directly accused of sex abuse. A decade ago, an archbishop from Newfoundland accused of covering up a sex abuse scandal was forced to resign.

Also Friday, the pope also appointed a new bishop for Lexington, Ky., a post vacant since the previous bishop resigned in June following accusations of sex abuse. The new bishop is Monsignor Ronald William Gainer, 55, an official in the diocese of Allentown, Pa.

Whenever a bishop offers to step down, for age, illness or other problems, it is up to the pope to accept the offer or to ask the churchman to stay on, as the pontiff did back in April when Law also journeyed to Rome to seek out John Paul's guidance.

After Law, now 71, returned in the spring from his meeting with the pontiff, he said he was "encouraged" in his efforts to provide "the strongest possible leadership" in ensuring no child is ever abused again by a priest in his archdiocese.

In recent years, sex abuse scandals have engulfed dioceses across the United States and in Ireland, France and the pope's native Poland.

But Boston has been at the epicenter of the scandals because of the archdiocese's centuries-old prestige and Law's insistence that he stay at the helm.

Last month, Law, in an apology delivered during Mass in Boston's Cathedral, acknowledged his responsibility for decisions that "led to intense suffering."

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