When a former Catholic archbishop of Boston died Dec. 20 in Italy, the cleric who played a role in his downfall had words of compassion for him.
The paths of former Archbishop Bernard Law, who died last week, and Cardinal Sean O’Malley both include time in the Virgin Islands. O’Malley was bishop of the Catholic Church of St. Thomas from 1984 to 1992. Law, a native of Mexico, graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School.
But when their paths crossed in Boston, the resulting scandal led to Law’s downfall. Law died Dec. 20 at the age of 86. He resigned from the Boston archdiocese in 2002 after O’Malley made public his investigation into child sexual abuse by priests.
Around the time O’Malley took up his duties in the U.S. Virgin Islands, accusations were beginning to surface far to the north, where some priests in Boston were accused of sexually abused children in the diocese. A lawsuit brought by 552 sex abuse victims and the parents was filed against the Boston diocese in 1984.
O’Malley left the V.I. to serve as bishop in Fall River, Mass. It was then , he began looking into accusations of priests molesting and assaulting children in their congregations, first in Fall River, where he was newly assigned, and then in a wider sphere, including Boston. Before the investigation was complete, he produced a list containing the names of 159 suspect priests.
Law was never accused of child molestation or misconduct involving sex. However, as bishop of Boston he adopted a policy of quietly transferring priests accused of such crimes to other parishes without addressing the behavior and concealing the facts from the new parishes, where the priests often repeated their crimes.
Settlements of the lawsuits arising from the accusations cost the archdiocese more than $95 million.
Law had to resign over the scandal, but was given a new position in Rome. The fact that he never was disciplined or held to account for his actions is a pain that still burns in the hearts of the victims and their families.
In a news conference held the day Law died, O’Malley said the occasion of the death was bound to reawaken the past.
The former St. Thomas bishop said he expected Law’s death, “would open a lot of old wounds and cause much pain and anger for those who had suffered.”
At the same time, he pointed to times in Law’s life in the church not as well known as his time in Boston.
In earlier times, Bernard Law played a role in the civil rights movement and devoted time to visiting the sick.
O’Malley said despite his mistakes, the former archbishop of Boston is not a one dimensional person, he said. No one is.
Shortly after his resignation amid scandal in 2002, Law was demoted to archpriest and assigned to duties at a Catholic basilica in Rome. He remained at that post until illness and death set in.
A 1953 graduate of Harvard University, Law was ordained as a priest in 1961, but never served in the Virgin Islands.
O’Malley was elevated to cardinal of Boston in 2006. In 2013 Pope Francis appointed Cardinal O’Malley as one of eight cardinals of the Council of Cardinal Advisers to help the pope govern the church and reform its central administration.