Pope John Paul II on Friday accepted the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law as archbishop of the scandal-plagued Boston, Massachusetts, archdiocese.
The Vatican announcement comes after months of pressure for the cardinal to resign in the wake of sex abuse accusations involving children and priests and allegations that Law did not take strong action to deal with the problem.
On Thursday, Massachusetts’ attorney general told reporters that the Boston archdiocese engaged in “an elaborate scheme” to keep the issue quiet.
Law also on Friday issued an apology, hoping the move will help bring about “healing, reconciliation and unity.”
“To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness. To the bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity, with whom I have been privileged to work in our efforts to fulfill the church’s mission, I express my deep gratitude,” in a written statement issued by Law.
Law said he is “profoundly grateful to the Holy Father” for accepting his resignation.
“My gratitude extends as well to so many others with whom I have been associated in serving the common good; these include those from the ecumenical, Jewish, and wider interreligious communities as well as public officials and others in the civil society.
“The particular circumstances of this time suggest a quiet departure. Please keep me in your prayers.”
Most Rev. Richard Gerard Lennon, auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese, was appointed by the pope to take over interim duties in the archdiocese.
Ann Webb, speaking for a sex abuse victims’ group called SNAP, called the development a “positive step,” saying Law was a “lightning rod” for what has gone wrong with the church. She said she was pleased that Law had the courage to step down but was culpable just the same.
Law had traveled to the Vatican this week to discuss the problems in his archdiocese with officials. He met with Cardinal Giovanni Re, head of the congregation for bishops, and Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, head of the congregation for clergy, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told CNN Thursday.
Last week, the Boston archdiocese released extensive documents detailing startling examples of clergy sexual misconduct related to claims priests molested children. In addition, the archdiocese Finance Council authorized Law to seek bankruptcy protection for the archdiocese, which faces an estimated 450 claims from alleged abuse victims.
Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly alleged Thursday that the diocese schemed to keep the abuse quiet, adding that the problem goes back “decades, and perhaps for generations.”
While laying the blame on “management,” Reilly did not single out the embattled archbishop.
“This is an institution that is far beyond one person,” Reilly said. “There is a far bigger problem up there than one person.”
On Monday, 58 priests signed a letter asking Law to resign from the post. A Catholic reform lay group, Voice of the Faithful, had called Wednesday for Law’s resignation.
Law also stepped down this week as chairman of the Catholic University of America board of trustees.
Reilly did not deny published reports that his office has subpoenaed Law and several other bishops to appear before a grand jury that he said he had authorized to look into the case last summer.
“It’s very difficult under criminal laws in Massachusetts to hold a superior accountable for the acts of another, but we felt an obligation to go forward, particularly with our experience with this institution,” he said. “Our experience in the past has been that they do the right thing, they clean house, they cooperate. Obviously that has not happened here.”
Instead, Reilly said, “it became clear that there was an elaborate system to keep these crimes that were committed against children and not report them to law enforcement.”
Church officials, he said, “cared more about themselves, and that’s wrong.”