ROME — Cardinal Bernard Law, whose time as archbishop of Boston from 1984 to 2002 ended in the scandal and cataclysm of the clergy sex-abuse crisis, died in Rome in the early morning of Dec. 20, after a long period of declining health and a brief hospitalization for heart problems. He was 86.
During much of his time as shepherd of the Archdiocese of Boston, Cardinal Law was one of the most prominent Catholic leaders in the United States and an influential member of the College of Cardinals. That ended in 2002, however, as a result of the clergy sexual-abuse scandal, and controversy followed him even as he departed Boston to become archpriest of the Patriarchal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome in May 2004.

Faced with multiple allegations that he had moved priests accused of child sexual abuse from one assignment to another, he resigned Dec. 13, 2002. It was one of the darkest moments in recent American Catholic life. In his resignation letter, Cardinal Law begged forgiveness from the victims of sexual abuse.
“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,” wrote Cardinal Law. “To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes, I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness.”

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Cardinal Law’s successor as archbishop in Boston, issued a statement early Wednesday morning.

“I recognize that Cardinal Law’s passing brings forth a wide range of emotions on the part of many people,” Cardinal O’Malley declared. “I am particularly cognizant of all who experienced the trauma of sexual abuse by clergy, whose lives were so seriously impacted by those crimes, and their families and loved ones. To those men and women, I offer my sincere apologies for the harm they suffered, my continued prayers and my promise that the archdiocese will support them in their effort to achieve healing.”

In his statement, Cardinal O’Malley also acknowledged that what had been a long and genuinely brilliant career of ministry came to an ignominious and tragic end.

“It is a sad reality,” he wrote, “that for many Cardinal Law’s life and ministry is identified with one overwhelming reality, the crisis of sexual abuse by priests. This fact carries a note of sadness because his pastoral legacy has many other dimensions.”