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Cardinal Bernard Law, a Figurehead of the Clergy Sex Scandal, Dead at 86

Former Cardinal Bernard Law died today at the age of 86 in Rome, Italy. He suffered from a long illness that has not been named. Cardinal Law is perhaps best known for his role in the pedophile priest scandal that continues to rock the Catholic Church. He resigned as Cardinal in 2002.

Law was also a civil rights activist, and he was the editor of the Mississippi Register during the early 1960s. Law frequently wrote editorials calling for an end to segregation. These editorials brought him a number of death threats.

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Named the Archbishop of Boston in 1984, Law was a controversial figure throughout his reign as the top Cardinal in the United States. He was a vocal opponent of abortion rights, calling abortion “the cloud that shrouds the conscience of the world.”

Law’s fall from grace happened in 2002, when the pedophile priest scandal broke. Though Law himself was never accused of abusing children, it was under him that pedophile priests were moved from parish to parish, allowed to continue abusing children. These actions led many to accuse Law of “reflexively [placing] the reputation of the church above the pain of victims.”

In the film Spotlight, about that very scandal, Law was played by Len Cariou.

After a letter signed by 58 priests urged Law to resign, he did so. He moved to Rome from Boston, where Pope John Paul II appointed him Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. This was an honorary position with no duties beyond the ceremonial, however. Law remained in that position until 2011, when Archbishop Santos Abril y Castelló was appointed.

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Though Law resigned, he reportedly still believed he was a victim. Other cardinals agreed, and though he had no official power, former Cardinal Bernard Law remained an influential voice in the Vatican until his retirement in 2011.


Featured image by Eric Vandeville/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images