Dec. 13, 2002 – The resignation on Friday of Cardinal Bernard Law as archbishop of the scandal-plagued Boston Catholic archdiocese is being felt in the Virgin Islands, where he has roots and close friends dating back more than half a century.
The son of a Roman Catholic Air Force colonel father and a Presbyterian mother, Law attended public school on St. Thomas in the early 1940s. He was a friend to many in the community and a well-liked student at Charlotte Amalie High School.
The Vatican announced that Pope John Paul II accepted Laws resignation on Friday. The action came after months of pressure for the embattled cardinal to resign in light of sexual abuse accusations involving priests and children, compounded by allegations that Law had long known of the problems and had failed to take appropriate action to deal with them.
Dr. Alfred O. Health, a classmate of Law's at CAHS and a longtime associate, reacted with sadness Friday morning, saying it was unfortunate that the situation could not have been resolved short of his friend's resignation. "I'm deeply saddened at the turn of events," Heath said. "I was hoping against hope that it would not end this way."
Heath, a well-known St. Thomas physician and devout Catholic, recalled a friendship that spans decades. "I was there in 1985 when Bernard was elevated to the position of cardinal by Pope John Paul … and when he was made archbishop," he said.
He recalled Law as a man who stood up for the impoverished, for those denied opportunities. "I recall his days in Mississippi, his marching along with Martin Luther King, then his being called to Boston to quell the racial unrest," he said.
Heath said he hopes to be a part of Law's healing: "We wish him well. We are praying for him … You can understand how we all feel," he said of the local Catholic community.
He said he does not expect Law's resignation to have any impact on the Catholic Church in the Virgin Islands.
Law issued a statement of apology on Friday, saying he hopes the move will help bring about "healing, reconciliation and unity."
"To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness," he said. "To the bishops, priests, deacons, religious and the laity, with whom I have been privileged to work in our efforts to fulfill the church's mission, I express my deep gratitude."
The 70-year-old Law traveled to the Vatican this week to discuss the crisis in his archdiocese with church officials including the pope.
On Monday, 58 priests signed a letter asking Law to resign as cardinal.
On Tuesday, Law stepped down as chair of the Catholic University of America board of trustees, a position he had held for 12 years. His current term would have ended next June and he had announced earlier this fall that he would not seek another as chair.
Born in 1931 in Mexico, Law graduated from Harvard College in 1953 and studied for the priesthood at St. Joseph's Seminary in St. Benedict, Louisiana. He was ordained a priest in 1961 and was first assigned to the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson, Mississippi. He was named a bishop in 1973 in Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri; was installed as bishop of Boston in 1984; and was named cardinal in 1985. The most senior prelate of the Roman Catholic Church in the nation, he was considered a close ally of the pope.
The call by 58 priests for his resignation following deeply damaging revelations about what he knew and when he knew it concerning sexual abuse of children by clergy "was a shocking declaration from the clergymen — who under church law had sworn to obey him — and echoes reverberated as far as Rome," the BBC reported.
For more information on Law's resignation and the events leading up to it, see the Vatican Post online edition, which has its own reports as well as links in its "Related News" section to coverage by numerous national and international media organizations.
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