- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 14, 2002

BOSTON Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as Boston archbishop yesterday, begging the forgiveness of "all those who have suffered" from his failure to crack down on rogue priests who molested children for decades.
He became the highest-ranking U.S. church leader toppled by the furor engulfing the Roman Catholic Church.
Cardinal Law, tendering his resignation to a "deeply saddened" Pope John Paul II in Rome, offered hope that his action would help heal his damaged flock. The pope named Richard G. Lennon, an auxiliary bishop in Boston, to take temporary charge of an archdiocese teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
It was in Boston that the scandal first erupted nearly a year ago, spreading across the country and plunging the church into an unprecedented moral and financial crisis. And it was Cardinal Law who many felt was at the core of the malignancy.
His resignation was greeted by some with relief. "Thank heaven. I hope there will be thousands of Boston Catholics and hundreds of Boston survivors who will feel better as a result," said David Clohessy, director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
Cardinal Law first offered his resignation in April, but the pope rejected the idea and the cardinal returned in hopes of putting the scandal behind him and the archdiocese. Instead, the scandal intensified as even more sordid details came to light, including accusations of priests using drugs, fathering children, and molesting children and telling them it was God's will.
Last weekend, the day after he was subpoenaed to testify before a state grand jury investigating the scandal, Cardinal Law quietly slipped away to begin a round of meetings with top officials at the Vatican. He met with the pope yesterday morning, and his resignation was accepted.
"It is my fervent prayer that this action may help the Archdiocese of Boston to experience the healing, reconciliation and unity which are so desperately needed," Cardinal Law said in a statement released by the Vatican. "To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes, I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness."
Even among the princes of the church, Cardinal Law is a major light. He is the nation's most influential prelate and has led the nation's fourth-largest archdiocese since 1984.
One of the pope's closest American advisers, the 71-year-old Cardinal Law will remain a cardinal, which means he could take another church post and retains the right to vote in a papal election until he turns 80.
But his resignation does not free him from civil lawsuits pending in Boston, nor from a subpoena to testify next week before a grand jury. And it isn't going to assuage all parishioners.
"It's too little, too late," said Anthony Muzzi, who says his priest molested him three decades ago. "It's gone beyond where it ever should have gone, with too much hurt to everybody."
The crisis in Boston was touched off in January when it became clear in court papers that Cardinal Law had reassigned former priest John Geoghan despite numerous accusations of sex abuse. The scandal quickly spread to dioceses across the country, as more victims came forward and Catholics demanded greater accountability from their leaders.
At least 325 of America's 46,000 priests have been removed from duty or resigned this year because of molestation accusations. U.S. bishops scrambled to come up with a policy against sex abuse, rules still being reviewed by the Vatican.
In recent weeks, thousands of pages of personnel files from the Boston archdiocese were released, offering disturbing details of misdeeds by priests. And the archdiocese for the second time in several months floated the idea of filing for bankruptcy protection in response to suits filed by more than 400 purported victims.
After Cardinal Law departed for Rome, 58 Boston-area priests openly rebelled, signing a letter asking him to step down.
"This is an extraordinary crisis we're going through, and it's not ending now," said the Rev. Robert Bullock, one of his critics. "We have a daunting task of rebuilding, and that's going to take a lot of wisdom and a lot of cooperation and effort by the church not just from the leaders, but from church members."
The scandal prompted the formation of a laity group called Voice of the Faithful, which was started by a handful of Catholics in the basement of a Wellesley, Mass., church and now claims 25,000 members across the country.
Jim Post, president of the group, said Cardinal Law's resignation brought relief and hope, but also sorrow. He said he believes Cardinal Law thought he was doing the right thing when he kept accusations against priests secret and tried to deal with offending priests within the church structure.
"The great sadness here was that everything he was doing was sowing the seeds for where we are today," Mr. Post said.
The pope was described by a Vatican official as "deeply saddened" by the whole affair.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, said in a statement that Cardinal Law's resignation is "not a time of rejoicing, but of hope that the church in Boston will continue to rededicate itself to the protection of children and to reconciliation of victim of abuse by clergy."
Cardinal McCarrick said the former Boston archbishop "accomplished many good things that should not be forgotten in the sad turmoil of this terrible scandal."
Many victims had been strident in their criticism of Cardinal Law and had called for his resignation months ago.
"As a Catholic, I have some sympathy for the devil. But he took an active role in covering up the victimization of quite possibly hundreds and hundreds of individuals. I will never forget those pains," said William Oberle, who says he was molested by a priest in 1969.
Cardinal Law's temporary replacement, Bishop Lennon, offered prayers for the victims of sex abuse and pledged "to work toward healing as a church and furthering the mission of Jesus Christ within our community."
Joyce Howard Price contributed to this report.

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