December 21, 2017, Thursday

‘‘May he be given a merciful judgment so that redeemed from death, freed from punishment, reconciled to the Father, carried in the arms of the Good Shepherd, he may deserve to enter fully into everlasting happiness in the company of the eternal King together with all the saints.’’ —Pope Francis, reading a prescribed prayer today in St. Peter’s Basilica, after the completion of an afternoon funeral Mass for Cardinal Bernard Law, the disgraced former archbishop of Boston, Massachusetts, who died here in Rome yesterday at the age of 86. Thus, Francis participated in Law’s funeral, but only briefly, and after the end of the Mass, as has become typical Vatican protocol at the funerals of cardinals who die in Rome


(Pope Francis, center, entered St. Peter’s Basilica at the end of the funeral Mass of Cardinal Bernard Law this afternoon, incensing his coffin, blessing it with holy water, and reciting the final prayers commending his soul to God. Photo by Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

Today was the shortest day of the year — last night’s darkness lifted with today’s dawn at 7:34 a.m., and this evening’s darkness descended early, at 4:42 p.m. There were only 9 hours, 7 minutes and 40 seconds of daylight today. Tomorrow there will be 1 second more, then 5 seconds more on the 23rd, 10 seconds more on the 24th, and 14 seconds more on Christmas Day, and more each day after that…

Today also was the day of the sparsely-attended funeral of an American cardinal whose lifetime of Church service began with high promise, but whose controversial role in the clerical sexual abuse scandals which exploded under his watch while archbishop of Boston in 2002 led him to become one of the most criticized and vilified Churchmen of our time.

This afternoon, at 3:30 p.m., a solemn funeral Mass began in St. Peter’s Basilica for the late cardinal archbishop of Boston, Massachusetts, Bernard Law.

It ended just as darkness fell.

About 200 people were present, an unusually small number.

I, too, was present.

Law died here in Rome yesterday morning, December 20, at the age of 86, after falling ill and being treated in a hospital.

Pope Francis, following typical protocol, participated only at the end of the Mass, reading the final funeral prayers.

Francis’ face was expressionless as he read those prayers, and as he sprinkled holy water on the wooden casket containing the cardinal’s remains, and incensed the coffin.

Or perhaps there was an expression on the Pope’s face.

Perhaps his expression was one of solemn resignation, of carrying out a religious and human duty toward a fellow human being.

Here below is a picture of the Pope as he began to incense Law’s coffin:

Before Pope Francis arrived, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, was chief celebrant at Law’s funeral Mass, flanked by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, all three Italians.

In his homily, Sodano seemed to allude to Law’s association with the abuse scandals in the United States, saying cardinals too “make mistakes and fail.”

That is why Catholics include a “confession of sins” at the beginning of every Mass, Sodano added.

One of the opening prayers at today’s funeral Mass read: “O God, who chose your servant Cardinal Bernard Law from among your priests and endowed him with pontifical dignity in the apostolic priesthood, grant, we pray, that he may also be admitted to their company forever.”

Because Law was an American, the newly-named US Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich, along with her husband, Newt Gingrich (photo below), with some other members of the Vatican diplomatic corps, were present. Nearby was the Vatican “foreign minister,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher. (Callista Gingrich, a Catholic, is well-known for her singing in the choir of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.)

The New York Times yesterday headlined: “Bernard Law, Powerful Cardinal Disgraced by Priest Abuse Scandal, Dies at 86.” (link)

The Times‘ piece, by Robert D. McFadden, described Law as “a staunch defender of Church orthodoxy, a Harvard-educated advocate of social justice for immigrants and the poor who had campaigned for civil rights in the segregated South. And when he arrived in Boston in 1984 as Pope John Paul II’s new archbishop, he was welcomed like a favorite son.

“Over the next 17 years, he became one of the nation’s most influential Churchmen, a protégé and confidant of the Pope, a friend of presidents, a force in politics who traveled widely, conferred with foreign leaders and nurtured Catholic relations with Protestants, Jews and others. Admirers thought he might become the first American Pope.

McFadden continued: “To critics… (Law) embodied the patriarchal, authoritarian ideologies of a hierarchy that rigidly opposed abortion, birth control, the ordination of women and changes in the traditional celibacy of an all-male priesthood.”

“Admirers thought he might become the first American Pope.”

That is perhaps the phrase that sums up best the height and depth of the tragic trajectory of this man’s life.

Law was a man who, when young (photo), was widely praised for his commitment to the poor and marginalized, who energetically and eloquently defended the Catholic faith.

Yet he became the highest-ranking American prelate to step down from his post as a result of the priestly sexual abuse scandal which exploded in 2002.

A number of cardinals of the Roman Curia attended today’s funeral Mass for Law, held beneath the Altar of the Chair at the very back of the basilica.

In recent years in Rome, I saw and spoke briefly with Law on two occasions.

I asked him once directly whether he might not to wish to speak “in-depth” about his life and work, before the end, to better explain himself, and to leave a tape-recorded record of his decisions and the reasons for those decisions, before his death.

But he firmly declined, choosing to keep his silence.

“In January 2002,” the New York Times wrote, “the scandal of child molestation by priests that had been gathering across America for years hit Boston like an explosion. It erupted when a judge released documents in the case of the Rev. John J. Geoghan, a defrocked priest who had been shifted among a half-dozen parishes amid accusations of abusing 130 boys over 30 years. The cardinal, who had once acknowledged transferring Father Geoghan to another parish, apologized, saying he had relied on flawed psychiatric assessments.

“In the ensuing months, hundreds of people came forward to say that they had been molested by priests in the archdiocese.

“Lawsuits and criminal investigations began.

“In response, 25 priests were removed, and the cardinal gave prosecutors the names of 80 priests accused of abuse over decades.

“But when the authorities sought further details, they said he became vague and reticent, citing sketchy records.

“Abundant information was found, though, in a personnel file on the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, disclosed by a plaintiff’s lawyer.

“It said Cardinal Law and his predecessor, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, knew of dozens of pedophilia accusations against Father Shanley but allowed his continued contacts with children.”

“Cardinal Law,” the Times concluded, “his credibility in tatters, flew to Rome, and on December 13 (2002), the Pope accepted his resignation.”

Law himself was never charged with any crime or held liable for damages.

But he was in disgrace due to his apparent mismanagement of his archdiocese with regard to these cases.

He initially retreated to a convent in Maryland, then was appointed in 2004 as high priest of one of Rome’s four most prestigious churches, the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

In Boston, in a statement released after the death, Cardinal Law’s successor, Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, said it was “a sad reality 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,” he added, “because his pastoral legacy has many other dimensions.”



Bernard Francis Law was born in Torreón, Mexico, on November 4, 1931, the only child of Bernard A. and Helen Stubblefield Law.

His father was an Army Air Corps officer (and later a commercial airline pilot), and the boy grew up on military bases in the United States and Latin America. He graduated from high school in Charlotte Amalie, in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

At Harvard, where he majored in medieval history, classmates said he had already decided to become a priest.

After graduation in 1953, he studied for two years at St. Joseph Seminary in St. Benedict, La., and from 1955 to 1961 at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.

He was ordained a priest in 1961 in the diocese of Natchez-Jackson, Mississippi. He served two years as a parish priest in Vicksburg, then became editor of The Mississippi Register, the diocesan newspaper in Jackson. He joined civil rights marches and editorialized against segregation and racial violence. He received death threats, and his newspaper lost many subscribers.

Developing ties with Protestant and Jewish leaders, he helped to create religious and social-welfare groups of mixed denominations and races and won national attention for ecumenical work. From 1968 to 1971, he directed a national committee of Catholic bishops on ecumenical and interreligious affairs.

After two years as vicar general of the Natchez-Jackson diocese, he was named a bishop in 1973 for the diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., where he pressed his social agenda for 11 years. From 1980 to 1982, he also led a program in which Episcopal priests, some married, joined the Catholic priesthood.

In 1984, Pope John Paul II named him archbishop of Boston, then the nation’s third-largest diocese, with 2 million Catholics. His investiture came days after that of John J. O’Connor as archbishop of New York.

Both archbishops were named cardinals in 1985 and became national Catholic leaders. Cardinal Law conferred at times with President Reagan and often with President Bush, with whom he was especially close. The cardinal is said to have spoken to Mr. Bush as often as once a month.

Cardinal Law traveled to Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. Fluent in Spanish, he went to Cuba several times, meeting Fidel Castro in 1990 and leading delegations of Bostonians during Pope John Paul’s visit to Havana in 1998 and of bishops in 2000. He met President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua in 1986, and in 1989 was a go-between for President Bush and the papal nuncio in Panama, who helped arrange the surrender of Panama’s dictator, Manuel Noriega, during an American military incursion.

His death elicited a letter of condolences from Pope Francis to the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, The Associated Press reported.

The letter made no mention of Cardinal Law’s role as the former archbishop of Boston or the scandal there, and referred only to the cardinal’s position as archpriest of the St. Mary Major basilica.


[The following is a statement released yesterday by Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, Law’s successor as archbishop of Boston. (link)]

By Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley

Cardinal Bernard F. Law, my predecessor as Archbishop of Boston, has passed away at the age of 86 following a prolonged illness.

I recognize that Cardinal Law’s passing brings forth a wide range of emotions on the part of many people. 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.

As Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law served at a time when the Church failed seriously in its responsibilities to provide pastoral care for her people, and with tragic outcomes failed to care for the children of our parish communities.

I deeply regret that reality and its consequences.

Since the day I arrived in the Archdiocese of Boston, my primary objective has been to work for healing and reconciliation among survivors, their families and the wider community of Catholics for whom the abuse crisis was a devastating experience and a great test of faith.

In the midst of these groups that were most affected have stood priests and religious sisters of the Archdiocese who have tried to minister to any and all seeking assistance, even when they have been deeply challenged by the crisis that unfolded in the Church.

It is a sad reality 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.

Early in his priesthood in Mississippi Cardinal Law was deeply engaged in the civil rights struggle in our country.

Later, he served in the Archdiocese and nationally as a leader in the ecumenical and interfaith movement following the Second Vatican Council, developing strong collaborative relationships with the Greek Orthodox and Jewish communities in Boston.

He was well known for visiting the sick, the dying and the bereaved at all hours of the night and day, a ministry that extended to the rich and poor, the young and elderly, and people of all faiths.

He also held the care for immigrants and their families in a special place in his ministry.

In the Catholic tradition, the Mass of Christian Burial is the moment in which we all recognize our mortality, when we acknowledge that we all strive for holiness in a journey which can be marked by failures large and small. Cardinal Law will be buried in Rome where he completed his last assignment.

I offer prayers for him and his loved ones as well as for all the people of the Archdiocese.


Here is the official statement Cardinal Law made when he resigned as archbishop of Boston in 2002.


By Cardinal Bernard Law

I am profoundly grateful to the Holy Father for having accepted my resignation as Archbishop of Boston.

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.

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.

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.

+Bernard Cardinal Law

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