This morning in Rome it was announced that the pope had accepted the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, the Archbishop of Boston. This brings to an end one part of the yearlong priest sex scandal in the Catholic Church, especially as it has been centered in Boston. Cardinal Law had been shown in various court documents and depositions to have knowingly reassigned to other parishes priests accused of molesting children and teenagers. Once reassigned many struck again.
In the Cardinal’s remarks at the time of his resignation, he apologized for this and asked the forgiveness of the people of Boston.
For many months, increasing numbers of Catholic laypeople, priests, and public officials had called for Law’s resignation. A recent round included requests from an organization of laypeople called Voice of the Faithful and a large group of priests from the archdiocese. This was in response to shocking revelations from archdiocesan records about how much the Cardinal had known about perpetrator priests, and about how much he had supported them and yet neglected to support the victims.
It is likely that with this announcement a lot of people will be breathing a sigh of relief. Many people saw Law’s remaining in office as a kind of stumbling block on the road to healing in the Church. After so many bishops kept silent about what was ailing the Church, a clear message of repentance was needed from the top. We wanted to hear, “We screwed up.” Yet, no matter how many apologies the bishops gave, as long as Cardinal Law was still the nation’s senior prelate, the message remained mixed.
That particular error has now been corrected. Maybe the apologies will seem more sincere now. We thank Cardinal Law for having the courage to insist that the Vatican accept his resignation. We pray this humbling experience for him be a healing experience for the Church. After all, no one is indispensable and all are at the service of the common good. The good of the whole demanded that the Cardinal step down, and he has done so, if a bit later in the game than he should have. Perhaps certain others should follow his example, if only for the sake of the healing of the Body of Christ.
The other piece of good news here is that a message got through from the people of the Church to church leaders. Church leaders listened to the laity in a new way and heard the value of their words. Everything wasn’t left for the priests and bishops to handle; the laity spoke up for justice, for those who were abused and ignored by people in power.
A crisis is a turning point. Perhaps today, Cardinal Law helped to turn the Church in the United States in the direction we need to go, a direction where we are all responsible for one another as God’s people.