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Cardinal Law Resigns As Archbishop

Dec 13, 2002 | AP Cardinal Bernard Law resigned Friday as Boston archbishop, finally bowing to months of public outrage that he failed to protect children from molesters in the clergy.

He is the highest-ranking church leader to fall as a result of the clerical sex abuse crisis that has plagued the Roman Catholic Church this year.

Pope John Paul II accepted the resignation after the two men met Friday morning, the Vatican said. 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 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."

Lennon takes over at an immensely challenging moment. More than 400 alleged victims are suing the archdiocese, and Law has taken steps to allow it to file for bankruptcy. Temporary administrators in the church rarely are empowered to make major decisions.

The crisis in Boston, which was touched off by Law's admission that he reassigned former priest John Geoghan despite accusations of sex abuse, quickly spread to other dioceses, as Catholics demanded greater accountability from their leaders.

At least 325 priests of America's 46,000 priests have been removed from duty or resigned this year because of molestation claims.

The pope was described by a Vatican official as "deeply saddened" by the whole affair. Law was one of the pope's closest American advisers.

In April, Law offered to resign in a meeting with the pope, but the pontiff rejected the idea.

The 71-year-old Law will remain a cardinal, which means he could move into another church post and retains the right to vote in a papal election, until he turns 80.

Abuse victims, lay members and even some 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.

"Thank heaven," said David Clohessy, director of the national group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "I hope there will be thousands of Boston Catholics and hundreds of Boston survivors who will feel better as a result."

Archdiocese spokesman the Rev. Chris Coyne said the resignation was "just one more moment of sadness over the whole timeline of great sadness and grief that has touched the archdiocese, beginning with the monumental tragedy of the abuse of children by priests and the failure and flaws of the administration to deal adequately with those moments of abuse."

Law had been at the Vatican all week, but largely kept out of the public eye. The cardinal slipped quietly away from Boston 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.

Among the worst cases, the papers document a priest beating his housekeeper, another trading cocaine for sex, a third claiming to be the second coming of Christ to lure teenagers training to be nuns into having sex and a fourth allegedly molesting a boy on 21 consecutive nights during a cross-country trip.

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 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 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 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."

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

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