Calling the past 10 months the hardest period of his life, Boston’s embattled Cardinal Bernard Law says he considered resigning in response to the child sexual abuse scandal that has swept the U.S. Catholic church.
In his first extensive interview since the scandal made national headlines in January, Law says he “received counsel” about leaving his post but decided he could do more to address the problem of child sexual abuse by staying.
Law, 71, is the nation’s senior cardinal. He has kept a low profile since the release of church records early this year showing that he and other Boston officials transferred priests from parish to parish despite records of abuse. Revelations followed that hundreds of priests across the nation may have abused thousands of young people over the past 40 years.
More than 300 priests have been removed from the ministry this year. Last week, U.S. bishops approved a national policy pledging to permanently remove from the ministry any priest who admits or is found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor.
Critics have accused Law and other church officials of trying to cover up the scandal. But Law said Sunday that at the time, he was not aware of the extent of the crisis nor of its “ripple effect” on victims, families and the church.
“I learned that I didn’t know a lot of things. The extent of this thing I did not know that. I have learned much more painfully of the impact this has had on others,” Law says.
Despite past advice that pedophile priests could be rehabilitated, he says he no longer believes that it is “proper and correct” to have anyone in the public ministry who is guilty of what he calls “this sin and crime.” He says, “That risk cannot be taken.”
Law’s interview marks a return to public life for a man who has been dogged by protesters almost everywhere he has traveled for the past 10 months.
In the past two weeks, he has met with victims and families, and he issued his most public and contrite apology. “I think it lies in the human heart to want unity and peace,” he says, “but other things get in the way.”
Some victims who have recently met with Law say he is a changed man.
“I don’t think he ever thought about what happened spiritually and emotionally to the victims,” says Olan Horn, 41, of Lowell, Mass. Horn says he was abused in the 1970s by a priest whom Law later moved to another parish. “I think (Law) may now finally be beginning to get it.”
Others aren’t so sure.
“I don’t believe he wasn’t aware of the damage,” says Mark Keane, one of 86 plaintiffs who says he was molested by convicted abuser John Geoghan, a defrocked priest now in prison. “People knew then that if you rape a child, you damage the child for life.”