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Bernard Francis Law

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His Eminence 
Bernard Francis Law
Cardinal Archbishop Emeritus of Boston
See Boston (Emeritus)
Enthroned March 23, 1984
Reign ended December 13, 2002
Predecessor Humberto Sousa Medeiros
Successor Seán Patrick O'Malley
Ordination May 21, 1961
Consecration December 5, 1973
Created Cardinal May 25, 1985
Other Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau (1973-84)
Personal details
Born November 4, 1931 (1931-11-04) (age 84)
Torreón, Mexico

Bernard Francis Law (born November 4, 1931) is an American Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He is the Archbishop emeritus of Boston, member of the Roman Curia, archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, and titular Cardinal Priest of Santa Susanna, the American Catholic church in Rome.

He resigned as archbishop of Boston on December 13, 2002, in response to the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal.


Early life

Law, an only child, was born in Torreón, Mexico on 4 November 1931. His father, a career Air Force officer, was stationed at the Torreón United States Air Force base, making Bernard a so-called "military brat". His mother, Helen, was a convert to Roman Catholicism from Presbyterianism.

He attended schools in New York, Florida, Georgia, and Barranquilla (Colombia), and graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

He graduated from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a major in medieval history, before entering priesthood studies at St. Joseph Seminary in St. Benedict, Louisiana, from 1953 to 1955, and the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio, from 1955 to 1961.

On May 21, 1961 Law was ordained a priest and worked as a priest of Natchez-Jackson, Mississippi. He served two years as an assistant pastor of St. Paul's Catholic Church in Vicksburg, and was made the editor of the Mississippi Register, the diocesan newspaper. He also held several other diocesan posts from 1963 to 1968, including director of the family life bureau and spiritual director of the minor seminary.

Civil rights activism

Law was a civil rights activist, and took part in some of the civil rights marches of the times[when?]. He was a member of the Mississippi Leadership Conference and Mississippi Human Relations Council. For his civil rights activities and his strong editorial positions on civil rights in the Mississippi Register, he received death threats .

Law received national attention for his work for ecumenism in the Deep South in the 1960s and in 1968 he was tapped for his first national post, as executive director of the U.S. Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs .

Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau

Pope Paul VI named him bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau on October 22, 1973 and he was ordained as a bishop on 5 December 1973. Law's predecessor in Springfield-Cape Girardeau was William Wakefield Baum, another future cardinal.

In 1975, he made the news when he arranged for the resettlement in his diocese of one hundred and sixty-six Vietnamese refugees who had arrived in the United States, and who were members of the Vietnamese religious order, the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix.

In continuing his ecumenical work, Law formed the Missouri Christian Leadership Conference. He was made a member of the Vatican's Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and served from 1976 to 1981 as a consultor to its Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. In the late 1970s, Law would also chair the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

In 1981, Law was named the Vatican delegate to develop and oversee a program instituted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in which U.S. Episcopal priests would be accepted into the Catholic priesthood. In the program's first year sixty-four Episcopal priests applied for acceptance. This brought married priests with their families into U.S. Roman Catholic dioceses for the first time (Eastern Catholic Churches, in keeping with their own traditions, have ordained married men to the priesthood for centuries).

In this period Law was also a pro-life activist and spoke out against abortion. During the 1984 presidential race, when Geraldine Ferraro, who was a Roman Catholic, was the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Law and then Archbishop of New York John Joseph O'Connor both denounced her support of abortion rights for women. Law called abortion "the critical issue of the moment".

Archbishop of Boston

Cardinal Bernard Law-coa

Coat of arms of Cardinal Bernard Law, with his motto "To live is Christ", in front of Santa Susanna.

Styles of
Bernard Francis Cardinal Law
CardinalCoA PioM
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Boston (Emeritus)

On January 11, 1984, Cardinal Law was appointed Archbishop of Boston, by Pope John Paul II. He was installed as Archbishop on March 23, 1984.

Only a little over a year later on May 25, 1985, he was elevated in consistory as a member of the College of Cardinals, where he was also appointed the Cardinal-Priest of the Titulus S. Susannae.

It was his speech at the 1985 Synod of Bishops marking the 20th anniversary of the end of the Second Vatican Council, that led to development of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in which Law oversaw the first draft of the English translation.

In the mid-1980s, Law chaired the bishops' Committee on Pastoral Research and Practices at the time it distributed a major study report on Freemasonry. The bishops' report concluded that "the principles and basic rituals of Masonry embody a naturalistic religion, active participation in which is incompatible with Christian faith and practice."

In 1989 and 1990 Law visited Cuba. He met with Fidel Castro in 1990 and in January 1998 he led a delegation of two hundred and forty Bostonians to Cuba during the papal visit there. In 2000 he was part of an inter-American delegation of bishops that met with Castro for more than four hours.

During his time as Archbishop he continued to be a constant advocate of the right to life of the unborn. However, in 1995, when John Salvi attacked two Boston abortion clinics, he urged a moratorium on clinic protests.

Sexual abuse scandal

Cardinal Law's reign as Archbishop of Boston began in popularity but quickly declined into turbulence towards the end of his term. Allegations and reports of sexual misconduct by priests of the Archdiocese of Boston became widespread causing Roman Catholics in other dioceses of the United States to investigate similar situations there. Cardinal Law's actions and inactions prompted public scrutiny of all members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the steps they had taken in response to past and current allegations of sexual misconduct at the hands of priests. The events in the Archdiocese of Boston exploded into a national Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal.

Grassroots public advocacy groups like Voice of the Faithful focused on Cardinal Law after documents revealed his extensive role in covering up incidents of sexual misconduct of his priests. For example, Cardinal Law moved Paul Shanley and John Geoghan from parish to parish within the diocese despite repeated allegations of molestation of children under the priests' care. Under questioning, the cardinal stated that, when a priest committed a sex crime, the cardinal said his practice was to seek the analysis of psychiatrists, clinicians and therapists in residential treatment centers before deciding whether a priest accused of sexually abusing a child should be returned to the pulpit.

As a result of the lawsuits, the Archdiocese of Boston lost millions of dollars in fines and settlements. It also funded the legal defense of accused priests. The archdiocese slipped into large financial deficits. The Archdiocese closed sixty-five parishes before Cardinal Law stepped down from service.

In response to the scandal, over fifty priests signed a letter declaring no confidence in Cardinal Law and asking him to resign - something that had never before happened in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in America.


Law submitted his resignation to the Vatican and Pope John Paul II accepted his resignation on December 13, 2002.

In a statement and apology Cardinal Law said, "To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness". He remained cardinal, which is a separate appointment, and participated in the 2005 papal conclave.

Move to Rome

After his resignation, John Paul appointed Law to a post in Rome, putting him in charge of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, with the title of Archpriest.[1] He is also a member of the Congregations for the Oriental Churches, the Clergy, Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, Evangelisation of Peoples, Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Catholic Education, Bishops as well as the Pontifical Council for the Family. He held membership of all these congregations and of the council before resigning from the governance of the Archdiocese of Boston, and at that time was also a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture.[2]

Episcopal Succession

Template:Infobox Episcopal Succession/bishopconsecrated11Template:Infobox Episcopal Succession/bishopconsecrated12
Episcopal Lineage
Consecrated by: Joseph Bernard Brunini
Date of consecration: December 5, 1973
Consecrator of
Bishop Date of consecration
Tomás Andrés Mauro Muldoon October 8, 1984
Robert Joseph Banks September 19, 1985
Roberto González Nieves October 3, 1988
John Richard McNamara May 21, 1992
John Patrick Boles May 21, 1992
John Brendan McCormack December 27, 1995
William Francis Murphy December 27, 1995
Francis Xavier Irwin September 17, 1996
Emilio Simeon Alluè September 17, 1996
Richard Joseph Malone March 1, 2000

See also

External links


  1. "Cardinal Law Given Post In Rome", The New York Times, May 28, 2004. Accessed April 11, 2008.
  2. Annuario Pontificio 2002
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
William Wakefield Baum
Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau
Succeeded by
John Joseph Leibrecht
Preceded by
Humberto Sousa Medeiros
Archbishop of Boston
Succeeded by
Sean O'Malley, OFM Cap
Preceded by
Carlo Furno
Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
27 May 2004–Present
Succeeded by
cs:Bernard Francis Lawla:Bernardus Franciscus Law

no:Bernard Francis Lawpt:Bernard Francis Law ru:Лоу, Бернард Фрэнсис sk:Bernard Francis Law fi:Bernard Francis Law sv:Bernard Law

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