Bernard Law has died at 86. He will be remembered as a man who spent a significant portion of his career aiding and abetting the molestation of children. He deserves nothing more.
Law died as an official in the Catholic Church, after having been appointed as the Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in 2004. It was a cushy landing for Law, all things considered. He had already been in Vatican City for several years before receiving the new position. He was there because he fled America in 2002. He fled after it was discovered that Law had known about, and routinely covered for, sexually predatory priests in and around Boston. He had been able to undertake this conspiracy while serving as Boston’s archbishop.
The conspiracy itself worked like this: whenever abusive priests were discovered, they were transferred into other communities, rather than turned over to authorities. Those communities were not warned about their new priest’s previously abusive behavior; victims were kept quiet by various means (guilt, threat, money). Among the priests that Law intentionally turned a blind eye toward was John Geoghan, arguably the most high-profile name in the American abuse scandal, a man accused of having abused more than 130 children during his career. Geoghan was later murdered in prison. Geoghan’s enabler walked free.
Law oversaw all of this, repeatedly refusing to turn over his list of abusive priests to local authorities, something he had almost two decades to do. He did this because he voluntarily chose to care more about protecting the Catholic Church from consequence than he did about protecting children from abuse. He made a daily choice to prioritize the one instead of the other.
The depth of Law’s depravity is almost impossible to fathom. When dealing with Peter Frost – a priest, Frost had been removed from active ministry in 1992; one of his victims later committed suicide – Law wrote the following:
“It is my hope that some day in the future you will return to an appropriate ministry, bringing with you the wisdom which emerges from difficult experience. In the mean time I want you to know that you and your family are in my prayers. I am especially sympathetic as you care for your mother. The Lord will give you a deep gratitude for the many opportunities you now have to show kindness to her.”
Law appears to have genuinely believed that Frost’s abusive behavior was an opportunity to make lemons out of lemonade. Law thought considerably less of Frost’s victims, whose abuse he repeatedly enabled through voluntarily undertaken (in)action. And of course, Law also blamed the victims themselves for his own behavior, arguing that his silence about the abuse was designed not to protect the institution from consequence, nor to protect himself from scrutiny, but to protect victims themselves. He had done it for them, we are meant to believe, because if he had talked about the abuse, people might have known.
Eventually, Law would generously take the time to tell victims that they were not to blame for their abuse; their perpetrators were to blame. It is unclear whether Law ever understood that he was one of the perpetrators, whether or not he ever actually put his hands on a child.
Law was never charged with conspiracy despite it being impossible to imagine a better word that would more accurately describes precisely what he spent a considerable portion of his life doing. He was never charged with anything else either. He wasn’t arrested. He wasn’t interrogated. The victims of the abuse suffered a lifetime’s worth of anguish as a result of those with power having done nothing to protect them. The church ended up paying out roughly $100,000,000 in settlements with victims. Law suffered not even a little bit. That is extremely unfortunate; he deserved much, much worse.
There exists a cultural expectation not to speak ill of the dead. That is absurd. Bernard Law was a monster. He will not be missed.