Signs of the Times

Cardinal Law Resigns After Year of Growing Scandal

Cardinal Bernard F. Law’s resignation as archbishop of Boston on Dec. 13 came at the end of a year in which the burgeoning clergy sexual abuse scandal practically paralyzed his archdiocese and exploded into a national crisis that consumed the energies of church leaders across the country.

He was the first cardinal in the world to resign his post because of a failure to protect children from sexually abusive priests under his charge. Cardinal Law, 71, had led the Archdiocese of Boston since 1984. As a cardinal since 1985, he was the top-ranking member of the U.S. hierarchy.


In a brief statement from the Vatican, he said he hoped his resignation would help the archdiocese “experience the healing, reconciliation and unity which are so desperately needed.” He said, “To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes, I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness.” His departure was announced less than an hour after he met privately with the pope at the end of a weeklong unannounced visit to the Vatican.

The pope named Auxiliary Bishop Richard G. Lennon of Boston as apostolic administrator, or interim head, of the archdiocese until a new archbishop is named. Bishop Lennon, 55, has been a priest of the archdiocese since 1973 and a bishop since Sept. 24, 2001. He was rector of St. John’s Seminary in Brighton and regional bishop for the western part of the archdiocese at the time of his new appointment.

Normally, when a diocese becomes vacant, the diocesan consultors elect a temporary administrator, who is supposed to maintain the status quo until a new bishop is appointed. The pope, however, has appointed apostolic administrators to dioceses that have experienced serious moral or financial difficulties. Apostolic administrators were appointed to Santa Fe, Atlanta and Palm Beach when their bishops resigned in the face of personal sex scandals. Likewise, apostolic administrators were appointed to Santa Rosa, Reno-Las Vegas and Fresno to clean up these dioceses’ finances.

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “In nearly 30 years as a bishop, Cardinal Law has made many contributions to the bishops’ conference.” He offered prayers for the cardinal, Bishop Lennon and the archdiocese.

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the healing process “will be long and torturous” and warned that more painful disclosures still lie ahead on the “rocky road to recovery.” She said the resigned cardinal “is, in some respects, merely a symptom and a symbol of a much more pervasive and deep-seated clerical culture that devalues both adult and child parishioners.”

Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis, chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, called the resignation another step toward “healing from this tragic chapter” in the church’s history.

In the days preceding Cardinal Law’s trip to Rome and resignation, almost daily events converged to seal his fate. Earlier in the year, the court-ordered releases of diocesan files on ex-priest John J. Geoghan and retired Father Paul R. Shanley, two of the archdiocese’s most notorious accused child molesters, had sparked major firestorms.

Still facing more than 400 lawsuits by alleged victims of abuse, in early December the archdiocese was forced to turn over to plaintiffs’ attorneys some 11,000 pages of files, covering all the other priests in the archdiocese accused of sexually abusing a minor. The first 2,000 pages, released on Dec. 3, dealt with six priests. One priest allegedly beat a housekeeper and sexually abused the child of his mistress. Another allegedly fathered two children and may have contributed to their mother’s death. His name was released by the archdiocese by mistake, because his name was similar to that of another priest who was charged with sexual abuse. A third was accused of sexually abusing teenage girls he recruited to become nuns, telling them he was “the second coming of Christ.”

The archdiocesan finance council voted on Dec. 4 to let Cardinal Law pursue Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the archdiocese.

On Dec. 7, according to later news reports, Cardinal Law secretly flew to Rome after conferring in Washington with Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, papal nuncio to the United States. The Boston Globe reported that while the cardinal was in Washington on Dec. 6, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly sent subpoenas to him and at least five other bishops who have worked with him to appear before a grand jury later in the month.

On Dec. 9, 58 Boston priests signed a letter calling on the cardinal to resign. Another group, the Boston Priests Forum, called for a meeting on Dec. 13 at which a possible resignation petition would be discussed. On Dec. 12 Voice of the Faithful—a lay group that was seeking reforms but until then had resisted calls for the cardinal’s resignation—met at a church in Newton and voted overwhelmingly to ask the cardinal to resign.

Cardinal Law Will Make Retreat, Live Outside Archdiocese

In his first press conference since his resignation, Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston said on Dec. 16 that he plans to take a brief vacation after Christmas and then make a spiritual retreat at a monastery.

He said that ultimately he will reside outside the Boston Archdiocese, continue to carry out his responsibilities as a cardinal and remain available for the legal processes surrounding the sexual abuse of minors by some Boston priests.

Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly recently announced that he has subpoenaed Cardinal Law and six of his former aides in the Boston Archdiocese. They include Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H.; Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans; Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y.; and Bishop Robert J. Banks of Green Bay, Wis.

Echoing the written statement he issued in Rome, the cardinal said he hopes and prays that his resignation, along with the policies he has helped to put in place for the protection of children, will bring healing to the archdiocese.

“During these past 11 months, decisions have been made and policies strengthened, which ensure the safety of children as the archdiocese moves forward,” he said. “A commitment to a comprehensive plan to deal with all aspects of this issue has begun to develop and to be implemented. While I had hoped to be part of that implementation, it came to be ever more clear to me that the most effective way that I might serve the church at this moment is to resign.” The cardinal again apologized to victims and asked for their forgiveness. He thanked Pope John Paul II for accepting his resignation and expressed his gratitude to God for “the grace and for the privilege to have served as archbishop.”

Although retired as archbishop of Boston, he remains an ordained bishop and a cardinal. Like other retired bishops, he could exercise pastoral and sacramental ministry. As a cardinal he is currently a member of several Vatican agencies and would be eligible to participate in their meetings and decisions so long as he remains a member. Until he reaches the age of 80, he will be eligible to enter a conclave to elect a new pope.

Cardinal Law Is Highest Ranking Prelate to Resign

Boston Cardinal Bernard F. Law is the highest ranking Catholic Church leader to step down over accusations of mishandling cases of clerical sex abuse and the first to do so in the United States. In recent years, accusations of mishandling sex abuse have also prompted the resignations of archbishops and bishops in Ireland, Wales and Canada. Other prelates, including some this year in the United States, have stepped down for the separate reason that they were targets of sexual abuse allegations. The highest ranking among them is Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, who in 1995 resigned as head of the Archdiocese of Vienna, Austria, after accusations of sexually molesting boys and men.

In April, the pope accepted the resignation of Irish Bishop Brendan Comiskey of Ferns, 66, following public criticism of the bishop’s reassignment of diocesan priests who had been accused of sexual abuse of minors and later allegedly abused again.

Archbishop John Ward of Cardiff, Wales, resigned in October 2001, citing ill health and controversy surrounding his alleged failure to take action in the case of two Cardiff priests jailed for abuse of minors. He was 72, three years under the age prescribed by church law for retirement. In a statement explaining his resignation, Archbishop Ward mostly blamed his ill health and said he was “weary” at the “lack of loyalty” he had experienced.

Canadian Archbishop Alphonsus L. Penney of St. John’s, Newfoundland, submitted his resignation in July 1990 just before an archdiocesan commission he established issued a critical report accusing him of covering up clerical sex abuse of minors and doing little to help victims of abuse. The pope accepted Archbishop Penney’s resignation seven months later.

New Boston Administrator Speaks Candidly About Problems

In his first homily as apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Boston, Auxiliary Bishop Richard G. Lennon addressed the clergy sexual abuse crisis several times, speaking candidly about the “dismay and disappointment, frustration and anger” felt by Catholics. “We need to hear what is being said by those who love the church,” he said during Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Dec. 15. “But more importantly, we need to hear the word of God.” Among the concelebrants was Msgr. Michael Smith Foster, the archdiocese’s chief canon lawyer and the first priest in the archdiocese to be reinstated after being cleared of accusations of sexual misconduct by Boston Globe reporters.

After the liturgy, Bishop Lennon remained in the back of the cathedral to greet the congregants and then surprised protesters who had gathered outside by going out to meet them. His attempt to speak with the protesters was cut off by a crush of reporters and television crews. Although the encounter was brief, some of the protesters were impressed. One woman, holding a placard and wearing several protest pins, remarked, “He’s all right.” Mary McNulty, another protester, was also pleased with Bishop Lennon’s appearance. “Since he came out and approached the survivors, it shows there’s something different going on now,” she said.

In a press conference on Dec. 18, Bishop Lennon said he hoped to settle the over 400 lawsuits against the archdiocese with insurance money and the sale of some real estate, but he did not rule out the possibility of bankruptcy. He offered to meet with any victims who request to see him.

Cardinal Keeler Apologizes in Court for Errors

Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore testified on Dec. 12 as a defense witness in the case of Dontee D. Stokes, who four days later was acquitted of attempted murder and five other felony counts for shooting and wounding the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell last May. The priest was first suspended from ministry in 1993 when Stokes, now 26, accused him of sexual abuse. When civil authorities did not prosecute the case because of insufficient evidence, Cardinal Keeler later reinstated Father Blackwell as pastor of Baltimore’s St. Edward Parish over the objections of the archdiocesan review board. “Given the same information we have now, I certainly would not do that again,” the cardinal said. Asked whether restrictions on Father Blackwell’s contact with young people came too late for Stokes, Cardinal Keeler replied, “I admit it, and I apologize to him.”

Father Blackwell was removed and suspended from his priestly functions in 1998 when he admitted to sexually abusing another youth many years earlier, before he was ordained. There is no evidence so far that he committed any abuse after he was returned to ministry. Before testifying in Baltimore Circuit Court, Cardinal Keeler walked to the defense table and shook hands with Stokes.

News Briefs

• A greater percentage of Hispanic Catholics agree with church teachings on divorce, abortion and homosexual activity than do non-Hispanic white Catholics, according to a national survey by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

• Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the University of Scranton, Pa., will become president of Fordham University in New York on July 1, succeeding Joseph O’Hare, S.J., who prior to his appointment as president was editor in chief of America, from 1975 to 1984.

• Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster said a new investigation concluded that he had followed proper procedures in the way he handled abuse cases while serving as bishop of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton.

• In Dublin, Ireland, Cardinal Desmond Connell, under fire for his handling of clerical sex abuse cases, won support from the head of the diocesan priests’ council, the Rev. Martin Cosgrove, who issued a statement rejecting calls for Cardinal Connell’s resignation.

• S.S.M. Health Care, a Catholic organization that has 21 hospitals and three nursing homes in four states, was the first health care recipient of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for performance excellence and quality achievement.

• In his annual World Peace Day message, Pope John Paul II said the worsening chain of violence in the Middle East calls for a “revolution” in political thinking and for regional leaders committed to the respect of human dignity. The complete message will be published in the Jan. 20 issue of America.

• The pope appointed Msgr. Ignatius Wang, chancellor of the San Francisco Archdiocese, to be an auxiliary bishop for San Francisco. He is the first Latin-rite Asian and Chinese-born priest to be named to the U.S. hierarchy.

• President Bush signed executive orders on Dec. 13 telling all federal agencies to give equal consideration to faith-based and secular organizations seeking grants to provide services to the needy. The executive orders continue to ban overt proselytizing in government-funded programs, but allow recipients to display religious icons and symbols and to select board members according to religious criteria.

• On Dec. 16, the Vatican announced approval of the U.S. bishops’ revised norms for dealing with clerical sex abuse, saying it is “fully supportive of the bishops’ efforts to combat and prevent such evil.”

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