I didn’t know Cardinal Bernard Law, he of Spotlight fame — or infamy — but growing up Irish Catholic, I knew prelates like Cardinal Law. They were traditional, conservative, patriarchal men for whom protecting the reputation of the Church and their band of brothers was paramount.
If Cardinal Law’s name is unfamiliar, and if you didn’t see the film Spotlight, Bernard Law was the Archbishop of Boston who, over the 17 years that he presided over what the New York Times called “the emotional heart of the church in America”, shifted pedophile priests from one parish to another, made financial settlements with the families when absolutely necessary, and swore everybody to silence. Disgraced after the sordid story broke in the Boston Globe, Law decamped to Rome where he was given a cushy post and protected from justice while he lived out his days. He died in Rome at the age of 86.
“But he did a lot of good things, too.” No one is entirely evil, and Cardinal Law’s defenders want us to know that he did a lot of good things as a priest, and finally as a Prince of the Church.
I’m sure he did. But his complicity in the pedophilia deeply embedded in the Roman Catholic priesthood is an ugly part of his legacy, and in my view, overshadows whatever else he might have done.
All of the children molested, all the silence demanded, all the suffering of families affected, cry out for justice — and that would have seen Cardinal Law held to account in an American courtroom, not whiling away his days behind the protected walls of the Vatican.