|[an error occurred while processing this directive]||
Law resigns as archbishop of Boston
Move is welcomed by priests, Catholics in Boston area
By Michael Paulson and Charles M. Sennott, Globe Staff, 12/13/02
ROME -- Pope John Paul II today accepted the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Francis Law of Boston, effectively ending the tarnished career of a man who had been one of the most influential figures in American religion before revelations of his repeated failure to remove sexually abusive priests from ministry sparked a scandal in the church of unprecedented proportions.
"I am profoundly grateful to the Holy Father for having accepted my request to resign as archbishop of Boston," Law said in a statement released in Rome. "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."
The Vatican offered no immediate comment on Law's resignation, which was announced at 6 a.m. in a brief statement released by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on behalf of Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the pope's top representative in the United States. Montalvo announced that the rector of St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Bishop Richard G. Lennon, would serve as apostolic administrator in charge of the archdiocese until a new archbishop of Boston is chosen by the pope. The statement made no reference to clergy sexual abuse.
"In nearly 30 years as a bishop, Cardinal Law has made many contributions to the bishops' conference," said Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the US conference. "My prayers are with him at this moment, as they are with Bishop Lennon and all in the Archdioce of Boston.
Neither the Vatican nor the Archdiocese of Boston offered any comment on the possibility of a bankruptcy filing by the archdiocese. The archdiocesan finance council last week gave Law permission to file bankruptcy in an effort to bring some order to the chaotic financial and legal situation facing the church, but Lennon will now have to decide whether to pursue that route.
As an apostolic administrator appointed by the pope, Lennon will have all the powers of a bishop who oversees a diocese. But Lennon is not considered a candidate for the permanent job of archbishop of Boston. Rather, apostolic administrators are caretakers who administer a diocese after the death or resignation of a bishop until the popen decides on a successor.
Church officials today struck a tone of sadness, combined with hope.
"The resignation of Cardinal Law as Archbishop of Boston marks the end of a significant chapter in the history of the church in that tremendously important archdiocese," said Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, D.C. "For me, it is not a time of rejoicing, but of hope that the Church in Boston will continue to rededicate itself to the protection of children and to reconciliation of victims of abuse by clergy."
Law, 71, is by far the highest-ranking American church official ever to lose his job as a result of scandal, and he is the first American bishop to lose his job for mismanaging sexually abusive priests.
"To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes, I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness," Law said. ". . . The particular circumstances of this time suggest a quiet departure. Please keep me in your prayers."
His resignation was welcomed by laypeople and priests, who had been clamoring for his departure. Over the last few weeks, the lay group Voice of the Faithful, the Parish Leadership Forum, and, most significantly, 58 priests had demanded Law leave.
"This is a day that is both sad and hopeful," said James E. Post, the president of Voice of the Faithful, a group founded in February in Wellesley by Catholics unhappy with the church's handling of sexually abusive priests.
"This is a terrible day in terms of the history of the church, because these events have brought the church to its knees in some ways, and the departure of Cardinal Law is a symbol of all that," Post said. "But it's also a day that we have to be hopeful that a healing process can begin that was not possible with Cardinal Law here."
The archdiocese of Boston, with an estimated 2 million Catholics, is the fourth largest Catholic see in the United States, and is by tradition one of the most important.
Law, who has been in Rome since Sunday to discuss the crisis afflicting the Archdiocese of Boston, had spent the last 11 months trying to repair the damage done to his image and to the vibrancy of his church by the repeated disclosures that he had kept on the job as priests dozens of men who had raped, molested, and groped children and adolescents. At least 80 priests in Boston have been accused of sexually abusing minors since 1960, and many were allowed to stay on the job even after their supervisors knew about their alleged crimes.
He tried to explain away his conduct by citing his and others' insufficient understanding of the nature of sex crimes, and the bad advice the archdiocese received from physicians who approved offending priests for continued service. He also at one point cited shoddy personnel records on priests as a factor. He apologized in a variety of ways. He changed the policy locally -- removing more than two dozen priests from ministry this year under a new zero-tolerance policy -- and supported a new national church policy on child protection.
For a time this fall, he appeared to be repairing some of his relationships by meeting with victims, priests, and leaders of Voice of the Faithful.
But none of his actions were enough in the face of a year of astonishing revelations and disastrous public relations. More than 450 people are suing the archdiocese of Boston, claiming to be victims of abuse by priests.
"The key development was the loss of support on the part of his priests -- there were editorials, statements by leading Catholics . . . and continued revelations, but the straw that broke the camel's back was that it was clear he had lost the support of his priests, and no bishop can continue then," said the Rev. Richard P. McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame. "Law's resignation is unprecedented -- this is the cardinal-archbishop of one of the premiere archdioceses in the whole world -- being forced to resign."
Advocates for victims of sexual abuse by priests were pleased with Law's resignation, but say the issue will demand more change.
"On the one hand, people will feel, and should feel relieved," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "But let's not kid ourselves -- the crisis is much, much broader and deeper than any one individual, so there's still a long, long way to go."
Clohessy said that for the church to move beyond the scandal, he believes the archdiocese must follow through on its pledge of transparency and full disclosure."All of the criminal and civil processes that have begun to shed some light on this horrific scandal have to continue if there's going to be even a chance for true healing," he said.
Olan Horne, a Lowell man who says he was molested by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham in the 1970s at St. Michael's parish in Lowell and who helped organize a victim support group called Survivors of Joseph Birmingham, said Law's resignation was a necessary step.
"I didn't think there was any other way," Horne said. "The people of Boston, and the innocent people in the pews, deserve this, because I just don't understand how he could continue to lead. Obviously he was very implicated. The records show his involvement time and time again.
Priests who had sought Law's resignation were also pleased.
"This is a sad day in the history of the chruch, and a sad day in the history of the archdiocese," said Rev. Paul E. Kilroy, pastor of Saint Bernard Church in Newton. "I hope that we can begin to expect the church in a different way than we have."
The scandal of priest abuse, which first came to light in the early 1980s in Louisiana and exploded in Boston this year, has been extraordinarily damaging to the largest and most influential religious denomination in the United States.
In Boston, the scandal has already cost the church tens of millions of dollars, and the bill to settle outstanding cases could cost as much as $100 million more. Pastors here report that attendance is down and contributions are off, and the church's once-forceful voice in the public square has, at least momentarily, been muted.
"This is the first bishop in the United States that has had to resign over this crisis, and he's a cardinal, so I think it sends a message to everybody, inside the church and outside the church, that the church gets it," said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, editor of America magazine, the Jesuit weekly. "There is no more business as usual. People are going to be held responsible for what they did."
Issues that church officials have long sought to ignore, such as whether priests should be allowed to marry, whether women should be ordained, and whether too much authority is concentrated in the hands of the pope and his bishops, are now front and center. The church's teachings on sexual ethics, already ignored by many American Catholics, are now a subject of open debate. And the Vatican is debating a controversial proposal to bar gay men from seminaries because of a concern about the large number of victims of abuse who were adolescent boys. There were many female victims as well.
Law's resignation brings an end to a year he has described as a nightmare, and a career many had seen as a dream.
Born in Torreon, Mexico, where his father was stationed as an Air Force colonel, Law moved frequently as a child. He was schooled in New York, Florida, Georgia and Colombia, South America; he graduated from high school in the Virgin Islands and listed Panama as his home at the time of his graduation from Harvard in 1953.
Law's father was Catholic, but his mother was not; a Presbyterian, she converted to Catholicism in the 1950s. Law was president of the Catholic Club at Harvard, where he studied medieval history; he was also a member of the Democratic Club, although later in life clearly sided with the Republican Party.
Law attended college at Harvard, studying medieval history before graduating in 1953. He was ordained a priest in 1961, after studies at St. Joseph's Seminary in Louisiana and the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.
As a young priest in Natchez, Miss., Law was active in the civil rights movement -- so much so that his life was threatened. Ambitious, politic, and in step with the conservative doctrines of the church, Law rose steadily through the ranks. In l968, he was sent to Washington, D.C., to serve as executive director of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
He was appointed bishop of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese, in Missouri, in 1973, and was named the eighth bishop of Boston in 1984, succeeding Humberto Medeiros, who had died four months earlier. The following year Pope John Paul II named him a cardinal, granting him the red hat that signified his role as a prince of the church.
Lennon, the new apostolic administrator, is an Arlington native who currently serves as rector of St. John's Seminary in Brighton. He previously served as parochial vicar of St. Mary of the Nativity Church in Scituate, from 1973 to 1982, and of St. Mary Church in Quincy, from 1982 to 1988. From 1988 until 1998, he was assistant for canonical affairs at chancery in Brighton; in 1999 he became rector of St. John's and last fall he was named bishop.
Church specialists said the apostolic nuncio would now conduct a search for a new archbishop of Boston, recommending candidates to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, which would in turn recommend a new archbishop to the pope. That process has in the past taken months.
Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. Sennott reported from Rome; Paulson from Boston. Marcella Bombardieri, Stephen Kurkjian, Sacha Pfeiffer and Michael Rosenwald of the Globe staff contributed to this report.