Cardinal Bernard Law Dies: His Passing ‘Reopened Old Wounds’ For Alleged Boston Clergy Sex Abuse Victims

Law, who earned controversy in 2002 for his alleged mishandling of sexual abuse allegations against Boston-area priests, died in Rome on Wednesday at the age of 86.

Cardinal Bernard Law Dies: His Passing 'Reopened Old Wounds' For Alleged Boston Clergy Sex Abuse Victims
Alessandra Tarantino / AP Images

Law, who earned controversy in 2002 for his alleged mishandling of sexual abuse allegations against Boston-area priests, died in Rome on Wednesday at the age of 86.

Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston who allegedly turned a blind eye to decades of child molestation accusations against his archdiocese’s priests, died early Wednesday morning in Rome. He was 86.

As of this writing, Cardinal Bernard Law’s cause of death has yet to be announced, but a report from the Associated Press indicated that the disgraced former archbishop was recently hospitalized, and had been feeling sick in the time leading up to his death. According to the Guardian, Pope Francis has yet to comment on Law’s passing, but will likely be sending an official telegram of condolence on Wednesday, and celebrating his funeral mass, as is the tradition with Rome-based cardinals.

Born in Torreon, Mexico on November 4, 1931, Bernard Francis Law graduated from Harvard University in 1953, and was ordained as a priest in 1961. As a young priest, Law was active in the fight for civil rights in the 1960s, before he spent some time with the national bishops’ conference. Following a stint as bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Missouri, Law was named archbishop of Boston in 1984, and was known for making public comments against government officials who favored abortion rights. Per the Guardian, he was also “beloved” by Pope John Paul II, who served as the head of the Catholic Church until his death in 2005.

Cardinal Bernard Law, however, drew great controversy in 2002, following the Boston Globe’s expose on a series of child molestation accusations against Boston-area priests. According to these reports, Law regularly transferred abusive clergymen from one parish to another, keeping matters quiet by not informing the children’s parents or law enforcement. At first, Law refused to comment on the allegations, but as the Associated Press noted, he would ultimately apologize and promise to institute reforms. This was followed by the release of “thousands” of church records that alleged Law and other church authorities were more sympathetic toward the accused priests than their supposed victims and their families.

After the release of the church literature, Law resigned from his post as archbishop of Boston. He was never criminally charged for his alleged role in covering up the sex abuse accusations. He then was brought to Rome, where in 2004, he was named archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. According to an earlier report from the Guardian, Law served in this honorific role until his retirement in 2011 at the age of 80.

The sex abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese was later on dramatized in a major Hollywood film, the 2015 drama Spotlight, which starred Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton. Although the film mainly focused on members of the publication’s “Spotlight” investigative reporting team and their role in exposing the scandal, Law’s character was also featured in the movie, with Canadian actor Len Cariou portraying him on the silver screen. Spotlight ended up winning awards for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the 88th Academy Awards in February 2016.

The 2015 film ‘Spotlight’, which centered on the 2002 Boston Archdiocese sex abuse scandal, won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the 88th Academy Awards. Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Due to the controversy he faced 15 years ago in his home country, Cardinal Bernard Law’s death “reopened old wounds” for many of the people who had alleged that they were sexually abused by Boston-area priests, the AP wrote.

“Many victims are reminded of the pain of being sexually abused upon hearing of Cardinal Law passing away,” said Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer who represented several of these alleged victims.

“Cardinal Law turned his back on innocent children and allowed them to be sexually abused and then received a promotion in Rome.”

Speaking the Associated Press, Alexa MacPherson had no reason to mourn Cardinal Bernard Law’s death, after reportedly enduring six years of sexual abuse at the hands of Boston clergymen as a young child.

“Good riddance to bad rubbish. I hope the gates of hell are swinging wide to allow him entrance,” MacPherson said.

“I won’t shed a tear for him – I might shed a tear for everyone who’s been a victim under him.”

Likewise, MacPherson’s mother, Barbara Sidorowicz, also told the AP that she could not find it in herself to forgive Cardinal Bernard Law, even after his death. Her two sons were also among the many children allegedly abused by priests during the Boston clergy sex scandal.

“I cry over what happened to my children, but I can’t cry over him. I can’t even get myself to say a prayer for him. He should have been in jail.”

In a statement issued to the Boston Herald, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) executive director Barbara Dorris said that she doubts there will be “any great sadness” in the aftermath of Cardinal Bernard Law’s death. She reminded people that church officials chose to recall Law to the Vatican and allow him to keep serving the Catholic church, despite the presence of documents detailing the abuses supposedly committed by Boston priests against young children.