Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston resigned his post after meeting with Pope John Paul II here this morning, one day after the Massachusetts Attorney General accused Boston’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese of engaging in “a cover-up” and “an elaborate scheme” to hide child abuse allegations from law enforcement authorities.
In a written news bulletin released at 6 a.m.(ET), the Vatican announced that the Pope had accepted Law’s resignation, which he tendered after several days of meetings with senior Vatican officials. The statement did not mention child abuse, and Vatican officials were not immediately available for questions. In April, the pope had refused an offer by Law to resign as criticism mounted over his handling of child sex abuse claims against Boston priests.
Included in the Vatican announcement was a statement from Law, who said:
“”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.”
The pope named Bishop Richard Lennon, an auxiliary bishop in Boston, to run the diocese temporarily.
Law quietly left Boston for Rome last Saturday. That was one day after he and other Boston Archdiocese officials were subpoenaed to testify before a state grand jury, the Boston Globe has reported.
On Thursday, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly held a news conference during which he discussed his ongoing criminal investigation and blasted church officials, without directing specific allegations at Law. Law’s lawyer said he believes the cleric is not a target of the investigation.
”This could have been stopped a long time ago but it wasn’t,” Reilly, the attorney general, said. ”There was a cover-up, an elaborate scheme to keep it away from law enforcement, to keep it quiet. The church and the leadership of the church felt it was more important to protect the church than any children, and, as a result of that, needless numbers, countless numbers of children were harmed.”
Law, 71, is believed to be the highest-ranking American Catholic official ever to resign in the wake of scandal.
It was not immediately clear whether the pope’s acceptance of Law’s resignation reflected a new attitude in the Vatican toward the unfolding priest sex abuse scandal, or whether it was simply an individual reaction to a specific and egregious case. Some U.S. Catholics have questioned whether the Vatican has taken the scandal seriously enough.
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.
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.
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 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.”