Bernard Francis Law

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bernard Francis Law
Archpriest emeritus of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
Archbishop emeritus of Boston
A black-and-white photo of Law's face
Law in the mid-1980s
AppointedJanuary 11, 1984
InstalledMarch 23, 1984
Term endedDecember 13, 2002
PredecessorHumberto Sousa Medeiros
SuccessorSeán Patrick O'Malley
Other post(s)Cardinal-Priest of Santa Susanna
OrdinationMay 21, 1961
by Egidio Vagnozzi
ConsecrationDecember 5, 1973
by Joseph Bernard Brunini, William Wakefield Baum, and Joseph Bernardin
Created cardinalMay 25, 1985
by John Paul II
Personal details
Born(1931-11-04)November 4, 1931
DiedDecember 20, 2017(2017-12-20) (aged 86)
Rome, Italy
DenominationCatholic Church
Previous post(s)
EducationHarvard University
MottoTo live is Christ
Styles of
Bernard Francis Law
Reference styleHis Eminence
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal
SeeBoston (Emeritus)
Ordination history of
Bernard Francis Law
Episcopal consecration
Consecrated byJoseph Bernard Brunini (Jackson)
DateDecember 5, 1973
Episcopal succession
Bishops consecrated by Bernard Francis Law as principal consecrator
Tomás Andrés Mauro MuldoonOctober 8, 1984
Robert Joseph BanksSeptember 19, 1985
Roberto González NievesOctober 3, 1988
John Richard McNamaraMay 21, 1992
John Patrick BolesMay 21, 1992
John Brendan McCormackDecember 27, 1995
William Francis MurphyDecember 27, 1995
Francis Xavier IrwinSeptember 17, 1996
Emilio Simeon AlluèSeptember 17, 1996
Richard Joseph MaloneMarch 1, 2000
Walter James EdyveanSeptember 14, 2001
Richard Gerard LennonSeptember 14, 2001

Bernard Francis Law (November 4, 1931 – December 20, 2017) was an American cardinal of the Catholic Church, known largely for covering up the serial rape of children by Catholic priests. He served as Archbishop of Boston, archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, and Cardinal Priest of Santa Susanna, which was the American parish in Rome until 2017, when the American community was relocated to San Patrizio.

Law was Archbishop of Boston from 1984 until his resignation on December 13, 2002, after his involvement in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston sex abuse scandal became public knowledge. Law was proven to have ignored or concealed the molestation of numerous underage children;[1][2] Church documents demonstrate that he had extensive knowledge concerning widespread child sexual abuse committed by dozens of Catholic priests within his archdiocese over a period of almost two decades, and that he failed to report these crimes to the authorities, instead merely transferring the accused priests between parishes.[3] One priest in Law's archdiocese, John Geoghan, raped or molested more than 130 children in six different parishes in a career which spanned 30 years.[3] Law was widely denounced for his handling of the sexual abuse cases, and outside the church his public image was irreparably tarnished in the aftermath of the scandal.

Two years after Law resigned from his position in Boston, an act which Bishop William S. Skylstad called "an important step in the healing process",[4] Pope John Paul II appointed him Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome in 2004. He resigned from this position upon reaching the age of 80 in November 2011 and died in Rome on December 20, 2017, at the age of 86.

Early life and education[edit]

Law was born in Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico, on November 4, 1931,[5] the only child of Bernard Aloysius Law (1890–1955)[6][7] and Helen A. Law (née Stubblefield; 1911–1991).[8][9] His father was a United States Air Force colonel and a veteran pilot of World War I.[7]

Law grew up on military bases in the United States and Latin America.[9] He attended schools in New York; Florida; Georgia; Barranquilla, Colombia; and graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School in Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.[10] While in high school, he was employed by The Virgin Islands Daily News.[11] He graduated from Harvard College with a major in medieval history before studying philosophy at Saint Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, Louisiana, from 1953 to 1955, and theology at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio, from 1955 to 1961.[11]

Priestly ministry in the civil rights era[edit]

On May 21, 1961, Law was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson in Mississippi.[10] He served two years as an assistant pastor of St. Paul's Catholic Church in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he was the editor of The Mississippi Register, the diocesan newspaper.[5] He also held several other diocesan posts from 1963 to 1968, including director of the family life bureau and spiritual director of the minor seminary.[11]

The young Fr. Law was a civil rights activist.[12][13]

He was a member of the Mississippi Leadership Conference and Mississippi Human Relations Council.[13] For his civil rights activities and his strong positions on civil rights in the Mississippi Register, of which he was editor, he received death threats.[13] Charles Evers, activist and brother of murdered civil rights activist Medgar Evers, praised Law and said he acted "not for the Negro, but for justice and what is right."[14]

Law's brave civil rights activity led him to develop ties with Protestant church leaders and he received national attention for his work for ecumenism,[10] and in 1968 he was tapped for his first national post, as executive director of the US Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.[9]

Bishop of Springfield–Cape Girardeau[edit]

Pope Paul VI named Law bishop of the Diocese of Springfield–Cape Girardeau in Missouri on October 22, 1973, and he was consecrated on December 5 of that year.[15] Law's predecessor in Springfield–Cape Girardeau was William Wakefield Baum, another future cardinal.[11]

In 1975, he arranged for the resettlement in his diocese of 166 Vietnamese refugees who arrived in the United States, and were members of a Vietnamese religious congregation, the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix.[5]

In continuing his ecumenical work, Law formed the Missouri Christian Leadership Conference.[16] He was made a member of the Vatican's Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and served from 1976 to 1981 as a consultor to its Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.[5] In the late 1970s, Law would also chair the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.[16]

In 1981, Law was named the Vatican delegate to develop and oversee a program instituted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in which U.S. Episcopal priests would be accepted into the Catholic priesthood.[17] In the program's first year, sixty-four Episcopal priests applied for acceptance.[17] This brought married priests with their families into U.S. Roman Catholic dioceses for the first time.[16]

Archbishop of Boston[edit]

Coat of arms of Cardinal Bernard Law, with his motto "To live is Christ", in front of Santa Susanna

On January 11, 1984, Law was appointed Archbishop of Boston by Pope John Paul II[18] and was installed on March 23, 1984.[15]

That same year, Law reassigned a local priest, Fr John Geoghan, to St. Julia's in Weston, on the recommendation of medical professionals. Geoghan had previously been known to abuse children, and at least one auxiliary bishop in Boston warned Law that the priest was unfit to return to parish ministry.[3]

On May 25, 1985, Law was appointed a member of the College of Cardinals, where he was also appointed the Cardinal Priest of the church of Santa Susanna.[19][20]

In 1985, delivering one of the few speeches in Latin at the Synod of Bishops, he called for the creation of a "universal catechism" to guard against dissent, especially by theologians. He was the second prelate to call for such a document,[21] which became the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992). Law oversaw the first draft of its English translation.[22]

In the mid-1980s, Law chaired the bishops' Committee on Pastoral Research and Practices at the time it distributed a report on Freemasonry.[11] The bishops' report concluded that "the principles and basic rituals of Masonry embody a naturalistic religion, active participation in which is incompatible with Christian faith and practice".[5]

In 1989, Geoghan was once again removed from ministry due to continued child sex abuse, but was later allowed to return to St Julia's. Further incidents resulted in his permanent removal in 1993, and his defrocking in 1998.[3]

Sex abuse scandal exposés[edit]

In January 2001, Law was named a defendant in several high-profile cases involving pedophile priests, including one involving Geoghan.[23] Reporter Kristen Lombardi, who was assigned to investigate by Susan Ryan-Vollmar, the editor of the Boston Phoenix weekly,[24] wrote "Cardinal sin", an article about the cases.[5]

Mark Keane, a victim of Geoghan, believed that Law had direct knowledge that Geoghan, who worked in the Archdiocese of Boston from 1962 to 1993, was repeatedly molesting children.[24] Keane said that the archbishop not only allowed the priest to continue working, but repeatedly moved him from parish to parish where he had daily contact with many children (one of whom was Keane).[5]

Even though abuse by Geoghan had been reported repeatedly in the media since 1996, the new editor of the daily Boston Globe newspaper Martin Baron set the Spotlight investigatory team to work on the case in September 2001.[11] Lombardi acknowledged that the Globe may have had the story before she did, but was delayed somewhat pending the release of sealed records.[25]


In April 2002, following the Boston Globe's public exposure of the cover up by Cardinal Law (and his predecessor Cardinal Humberto Medeiros) of offending priests in the Boston Archdiocese, Law consulted with Pope John Paul II and other Vatican officials and said he was committed to staying on as archbishop and addressing the scandal: "It is my intent to address at length the record of the Archdiocese's handling of these cases by reviewing the past in as systematic and comprehensive way as possible, so that legitimate questions which have been raised might be answered."[26]

Even so, Law submitted his resignation as Archbishop of Boston to the Vatican, which Pope John Paul II accepted on December 13, 2002.[25] Law wrote in a personal declaration, "The particular circumstances of this time suggest a quiet departure. Please keep me in your prayers."[27] and moved to Rome. In July 2003, Seán O'Malley, OFMCap was named the new Archbishop of Boston.[28]

The Boston Globe said in an editorial the day after Law's resignation was accepted that "Law had become the central figure in a scandal of criminal abuse, denial, payoff, and coverup that resonates around the world".[25] A letter urging Law's resignation had been signed by 58 priests, mostly diocesan priests who had sworn obedience to Law as their direct superior; the editorial said that this letter was "surely one of the precipitating events in his departure".[29] The Globe's exposé of the scandal was the subject of an Oscar-winning film, Spotlight released in the United States in November 2015, in which Law was portrayed by Len Cariou.[24]

In a statement, Cardinal Law said, "It is my fervent prayer that [my resignation] 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."[30] While no longer Archbishop of Boston, Law remained a bishop and cardinal of the Catholic Church in good standing; as a cardinal, he participated in the 2005 papal conclave.[24] By the time of the 2013 papal conclave, he had become ineligible to vote as he was over the age of 80.[11]

Roman appointment[edit]

Within weeks of his resignation, Law moved from Boston to Rome.[24] When the state attorney general issued his report entitled Child Sexual Abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston (July 23, 2003), he severely criticized Law, mentioning that "the Archdiocese has shown an institutional reluctance to adequately address the problem and, in fact, made choices that allowed the abuse to continue," but did not allege that Law had tried to evade investigation.[24] He said that Cardinal Law had not broken any laws, because the law requiring abuse to be reported was not expanded to include priests until 2002.[31]

Law was a member of the Congregations for the Oriental Churches, the Clergy, Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, Evangelisation of Peoples, Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Catholic Education, Bishops as well as the Pontifical Council for the Family.[24][32] He held membership in all these congregations and of the council before resigning from the governance of the Archdiocese of Boston, and at that time was also a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture.[33] He became even more influential in those Vatican congregations and, being based in Rome, he could attend all their meetings, unlike cardinals based in other countries.[32]

In May 2004, Pope John Paul II appointed Law to a post in Rome, as Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, a largely ceremonial role.[34] Some saw this an attempt to shield Law from potential criminal prosecution as his new position conveyed citizenship in Vatican City.[35]

Law reached 80 on November 4, 2011, and lost the right to participate in a papal conclave as well as his memberships in offices of the Roman Curia.[24] He remained as archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore until November 21, 2011, when Archbishop Santos Abril y Castelló was appointed as the new archpriest.[32]

In Rome, Law was considered an active and important conservative voice within many of the Vatican offices in which he served. Robert Mickens, a longtime Vatican journalist, reported that Law believed he had been "badly done by", and that other cardinals saw him as a victim rather than a guilty party. Until his retirement, Mickens said, "He did not lose his influence. He was a member of more congregations than any other bishop ... Cardinals that are members of these offices can't always go to the meetings—they are not in Rome—but Bernie Law did and he goes everywhere and he keeps his head held high."[32]

Retirement and death[edit]

It was "commonly believed that [Law would] live out his retirement in Rome" (when he reached 80 years of age).[36] After his retirement in 2011, Law continued to live in Vatican City, and regularly attended the annual July 4 Independence Day parties held by the United States Embassy to the Holy See.[32]

In March 2013, Law was living at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.[37] As of 2015, he was living in the Palazzo della Cancelleria.[38] He visited the United States for the last time in August 2015 for the funeral of Cardinal William Wakefield Baum in Washington, D.C.[39]

In May 2012, the National Catholic Reporter and The Tablet, a British Catholic weekly, reported that Law was "the person in Rome most forcefully supporting" Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori's petition to investigate and discipline the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a large group of American nuns.[40]

After a long illness, Law died in Rome on December 20, 2017, at the age of 86. He is buried in a chapel at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.[5][39] His funeral rites, following the standard for a cardinal who dies in Rome, included Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on December 21 at which Pope Francis said the final prayers.[41][42] Vatican TV did not livestream the Mass as it normally does.[43]

Upon his death, his successor as Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Seán O'Malley, OFMCap, said it was "unfortunate" that Law "had such a high-profile place in the life of the Church". He speculated that today Law would not receive the sort of Vatican appointments he enjoyed after leaving Boston "but unfortunately we're living with the consequences of that".[44]

The Guardian noted at the time that Law had become "a symbol of the Roman Catholic Church's systematic protection of paedophile priests" because of his refusal to stop sexual abuse in Boston.[45]

In popular culture[edit]

Law is portrayed by Len Cariou in the 2015 biographical drama Spotlight.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Paulson, Michael (December 14, 2002). "A church seeks healing". Boston Globe.
  2. ^ "Rinuncia dell'Arcivescovo di Boston (U.S.A.)" [Renouncement and Nomination]. (Press release) (in Italian). The Vatican. December 13, 2002. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d "Church allowed abuse by priest for years". Boston Globe. January 6, 2002. Retrieved December 5, 2015.
  4. ^ Paulson, Michael (December 4, 2002). "A church seeks healing". Boston Globe.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "Cardinal Bernard Law, who left Boston in wake of sex abuse scandal, dies at 86". The Boston Globe. December 19, 2017. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  6. ^ "Colonel Bernard Aloysius Law". 1890.
  7. ^ a b "Bernard Francis Law Papers". Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America. Archived from the original on September 3, 2017. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  8. ^ "Helen A. Law". August 2, 1911.
  9. ^ a b c McFadden, Robert D. (December 19, 2017). "Bernard Law, Powerful Cardinal Disgraced by Priest Abuse Scandal, Dies at 86". The New York Times.
  10. ^ a b c Bunson, Matthew E. (December 20, 2017). "Cardinal Bernard Francis Law (1931-2017)". Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g "Cardinal Bernard Law Fast Facts". CNN. October 11, 2017. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  12. ^ Pham, John-Peter (2004). Heirs of the Fisherman. Oxford University Press. p. 258. ISBN 9780195346350 – via Internet Archive.
  13. ^ a b c "Abuse in the Catholic Church". Boston Globe. 2004 – via
  14. ^ Dreher, Rod (December 20, 2017). "Bernard Law, At Rest". Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  15. ^ a b Briggs, Kenneth A. (March 24, 1984). "Archbishop Law Seated as Boston Church Head". New York Times. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  16. ^ a b c "Boston's Controversial Cardinal Law Dies In Rome". CBS. December 19, 2017. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  17. ^ a b "Cardinal Law, former Catholic Archbishop of Boston, dies at 86, sources say". Fox Boston. December 19, 2017. Retrieved December 19, 2017.[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ Briggs, Kenneth A. (January 25, 1984). "An Ecumenical Bishop for Boston". New York Times. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  19. ^ "Homélie du Pape Jean-Paul II". Libreria Editrice Vaticana (in French). May 25, 1985. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  20. ^ Dionne Jr., E.J. (May 26, 1985). "28 Consecrated 'Princes of the Church'". New York Times. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  21. ^ Franklin, James L. (November 27, 1985). "Cardinal Law asks universal catechism". Boston Globe. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  22. ^ Steinfels, Peter (May 28, 1994). "After Long Delay, a New Catechism Appears in English". New York Times. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  23. ^ Becker, Deborah (2010), Irish Catholics Call For Cardinal Law's Resignation, Following Clergy Abuse Report, WBUR-FM, archived from the original on February 22, 2012, retrieved March 23, 2014
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h "Where Is Cardinal Bernard Law Now?". WBUR. December 19, 2017. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  25. ^ a b c Clauss, Kyle (October 30, 2015). "Out of the Spotlight: Who Deserves Credit for the Scoop?". Boston Magazine. Archived from the original on November 2, 2015. Retrieved November 12, 2015.
  26. ^ Law, Bernard Francis (April 17, 2002). "DICHIARAZIONE DELL'EM.MO CARD. BERNARD FRANCIS LAW" [Declaration of the Eminent Card. Bernard Francis Law] (Press release) (in Italian and English). Holy See Press Office. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  27. ^ Law, Bernard Francis (December 13, 2002). "DICHIARAZIONE DELL'EM.MO CARD. BERNARD FRANCIS LAW" [Declaration of the Eminent Card. Bernard Francis Law] (Press release) (in Italian and English). Holy See Press Office. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  28. ^ Tracy, Donis (August 1, 2003). "Archbishop Seán O'Malley installed as sixth Archbishop of Boston". The Pilot. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
  29. ^ "The cardinal's departure". Boston Globe. December 14, 2002. p. A22.
  30. ^ "Cardinal Law Resigns as Archbishop of Boston". NPR. December 15, 2002. Retrieved January 17, 2014.
  31. ^ The Sexual Abuse of Children in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston: Executive Summary and Scope of Investigation (PDF). Office of Attorney General, Massachusetts. July 23, 2003. Retrieved December 21, 2017. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  32. ^ a b c d e Kirchgaessner, Stephanie; Holpuch, Amanda (November 7, 2015). "How cardinal disgraced in Boston child abuse scandal found a Vatican haven". The Guardian. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  33. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2002
  34. ^ "Cardinal Law Given Post In Rome". The New York Times. May 28, 2004. Retrieved April 11, 2008.
  35. ^ "The Current Legislation on Citizenship in the Vatican City State | in Custodia Legis: Law Librarians of Congress". July 18, 2012.
  36. ^ Arsenault, Mark, "Law retires from post in Rome", The Boston Globe, November 22, 2011. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
  37. ^ Allen, John L. Jr. (March 24, 2013). "Debunking three 'urban legends' about Pope Francis". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved July 29, 2013.
  38. ^ Martin, Phillip (August 3, 2015). "In Search Of Cardinal Bernard Law". WGBH News. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  39. ^ a b "Cardinal Bernard Law, Boston archbishop at center of church sex-abuse scandal, dies at 86". The Washington Post. December 19, 2017. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  40. ^ Bratu, Becky (May 10, 2012). "US priests reportedly behind Vatican crackdown on nuns". NBC News. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
  41. ^ "'Chop him up:' Accusers seethe over Vatican funeral plans for Cardinal Law". CNN. December 20, 2017. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  42. ^ "Funeral for disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law slated for Thursday at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome". ABC News. December 21, 2017. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  43. ^ Ellement, John R. (December 21, 2017). "Amid Grandeur of St. Peter's Basilica, pope attends funeral of disgraced Cardinal Law". Boston Globe. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  44. ^ "Pope Francis presides over the final rites of Cardinal Law's funeral Mass". America. December 21, 2017. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  45. ^ "Cardinal Bernard Law, central figure in Boston sexual abuse scandal, dies at 86". The Guardian. December 20, 2017.


External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
May 27, 2004 – November 21, 2011
Succeeded by
Preceded by Archbishop of Boston
Succeeded by
Preceded by Bishop of Springfield–Cape Girardeau
Succeeded by