Cardinal Bernard Law, RIP: seeking a balanced perspective

Cardinal Bernard Law, RIP: seeking a balanced perspective

By Phil Lawler  | Dec 21, 2017

The late Cardinal Bernard Law was not the ogre that his many detractors make him out to be. It is appalling to see abuse victims celebrating his death and cursing his memory, with the gleeful encouragement of the Boston media.

Nor was he the stalwart Church leader his remaining defenders would like to remember. It is edifying, in a way, to see the valiant efforts to revive his tattered reputation. But it is a hopeless cause. Cardinal Law was demonstrably guilty of, at least, gross negligence and dishonesty (probably including perjury) in his handling of the sex-abuse crisis. He presided over a corrupt archdiocese.

But the corruption in Boston was not unique, and what Cardinal Law did (or failed to do) was not markedly different from what was done by dozens of other American bishops. He became the poster boy for the sex-abuse scandal in the US, because of the relentless investigative reporting of the Boston Globe. But he was not the cause of the scandal—which was simmering, unnoticed, long before he arrived in Boston.

Cardinal Law is now beyond the reach of his accusers. And his friends, at this point, could do him more good by praying for his soul than by attempting to defend the indefensible.

My further reflections on Cardinal Law’s death are available now on the First Things site. For a fuller account of the tragedy in Boston, and how it reflected a grave problem throughout the American Catholic Church, see my book, The Faithful Departed—described by the late Father Richard John Neuhaus as “the best book-length treatment of the sex-abuse crisis, its origins and larger implications, published to date.”

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5 comments on “Cardinal Bernard Law, RIP: seeking a balanced perspective

  1. Well, Phil is being objective and fair. Prominent churchmen’s public records are, well, public.
    I only once saw the Cardinal on EWTN, an interview. He “seemed conservative” and quite literate on topics of personal spirituality.
    The late Cd. O’Connor of NYC reminded me of a milder version of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, at times. Which may not be completely amiss since he carried the rank of admiralty as head of the Chaplain Corps.
    Anyway, being an archbishop over a huge pagan metropolis can never be a chip shot.
    And, had V2 never occurred and had popes not turned into jet-setting, clerical Johnny Carsons ( or Don Rickles, as Tom hilariously illustrated on another thread today ), who knows how much better things might have turned out in Boston or the Big Apple for either Cardinal, right from the beginning of their ascent to high office?
    Such is the stuff of novels, of course. But it encourages thinking over the disastrous effects of a “de-rigorized” but thoroughly politicized episcopacy once the circus in sunny Nuovo Roma folded its big conciliar tent in 1965 and invited bearded ladies to “lector” at liturgical “happenings”, and looked away as theological midgets rose in power in media and seminaries, encouraging clerical clowns to “go on the road” without serious hindrance.
    The buck stops at the conciliar popes’ desk(s). Period.

  2. Seeking a balanced perspective

    Sure thing. On the one hand, he shuffled pederasts around, and covered for them. On the other, he taught sex to kids. He knew that he did because he heard from several folks I know. I once met him and mentioned what one program taught. He straightened up, asked me if I was certain, then told me to write the chancery. (Reply? … sound of crickets in the night) One time I mentioned to him Pope Pius XI’s condemnation of classroom sex-ed. He said “We have Pope John Paul II now.” I could go on.

    And more “on the other hand,” he undermined pro-life. I was with a group in the early 90’s starting a monthly Rosary at an abortion mill. I went with a half-dozen folks, mostly moms and grandmas, to meet him after a parish welcome for supporters of the diocese. We invited him to lead us in the Rosary at the mill. He declined. After about 5 minutes of hearing from exuberant moms who were giving him every reason why he should come out, guess what he said: “Do I sense some hostility here?” I was blown away that he would use that psyops tactic on kindly ladies, but he did. What a manipulator. I knew we were done.

    Oh, and more. After a devilish guy named Salvi murdered mill workers, the cardinal manipulator applied a tactic that devastated Catholic direct action. After meeting with Tuesday Weld’s cousin, MA pro-death Gov William Weld, Law told Catholics not to pray at the mills, and ordered all priests not to go, either. Bob Delery finally pressed Law to admit that the prohibition was not under pain of sin, so many of us continued to pray. But it gave rise to an “obedient” faction, causing a rift that seriously damaged direct action for a decade. Law knew what he was doing, and he won, big time.

    Oh, and … I’m sure Phil could fill in more. But there’s no need. Bernard Cardinal Law was an evil bishop. Much like the evil pope we now have. But Law was a “conservative.” Ha.

  3. Well, I only saw him the one time I mentioned. I did not follow the scandals as closely as others did since my former diocese did not have too many incidents.
    I’m sure for folks in your area, Cyprian, it was a much different story. VERY. Much. Different.
    I usually feel sorrow whenever anyone this side if Charles Manson faces his judgment so, if I overdid the “long view” or “Big Picture” sermonizing, I trust you will understand.
    I concur on the perversion ed / JP II “excuse”, which is totally indefensible. I was aware of it in my former diocese and spoke not infrequently against it, as well.
    My hypothesis was that, had V2 never taken place, much of the insanity might not, as well, have reached the proportions it actually did – papal rigor literally disappeared – and tried to fix the ultimate responsibility where it actually resides, with the pope in office at the time.
    No one has more available hard intelligence than a pope when it comes to managing bishops and clergy. Red zone assignments ought to be manned exclusively by ultra orthodox hard line bishops… If any such even exist in this day and age.
    Maybe a few in Poland or China do. My hope is that, at least potentially, a few will emerge from under the ashes in the American episcopacy, as well.

    • I wasn’t replying to your earlier comment. I’ve been itching to let loose, and this article by Phil provided just the right setup. I suppose it’s not a virtue to take his dead eminence to the woodshed, but it needs saying. In compensation, I should probably inject something to his credit. But I’ll decline.

  4. I am never know for being nice ! Law aided and abetted sex crimes against children . The SOB belonged in jail along with anyone who helped him hide and escape ! Santo Subito included .

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