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Bernard Francis Law

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Bernard Francis Law

His Eminence
Bernard Francis Law
Archpriest Emeritus of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
See Boston
Appointed January 11, 1984
Installed March 23, 1984
Term ended December 13, 2002
Predecessor Humberto Sousa Medeiros
Successor Seán Patrick O'Malley
Other posts Cardinal-Priest of Santa Susanna
Ordination May 21, 1961
by Egidio Vagnozzi
Consecration December 5, 1973
by Joseph Bernard Brunini
Created Cardinal May 25, 1985
by John Paul II
Rank Cardinal-Priest
Personal details
Born (1931-11-04) November 4, 1931
Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico
Nationality United States
Denomination Roman Catholic
Previous post
Motto To live is Christ
Coat of arms }

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

Law was influential in the first English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the 1980s. In addition, he is also known for issuing reports maintaining that Freemasonry is incompatible with Roman Catholicism. Law later resigned as Archbishop of Boston on December 13, 2002, allegedly in response to the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal after church documents were revealed which suggested he had covered up sexual abuse committed by some Catholic priests within his archdiocese.

Pope John Paul II appointed Law as Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome in 2004; he resigned from this position upon reaching the age of 80 in November 2011, but continues to live in an apartment within the basilica.

Early life

Law was born in the Mexican city of Barranquilla, Colombia, before graduating from Charlotte Amalie High School in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

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

On May 21, 1961. Law was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson in 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.[1][2] He was a member of the Mississippi Leadership Conference and Mississippi Human Relations Council.[2] For his civil rights activities and his strong positions on civil rights in the Mississippi Register, of which he was editor, he received death threats.[2][3] The newspaper lost many subscribers for whom his civil rights stance was repugnant.[3]

Charles Evers, activist and brother of Medger Evers (activist assassinated in 1963), praised Law and said he acted “not for the Negro, but for justice and what is right.”[3]

Law's civil rights activity led him to develop ties with Protestant church leaders and he received national attention for his work for ecumenism[3] 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.[3]

Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau

Pope Paul VI named him to head the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau on October 22, 1973, for which 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 a Vietnamese religious congregation, 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.

Archbishop of Boston

Coat of arms of Cardinal Bernard Law, with his motto "To live is Christ", in front of Santa Susanna.
Styles of
Bernard Francis Law
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 October 2012, former Irish President (and Catholic) Mary McAleese related that, on a state visit to the United States in 1998, she was publicly berated by Law for her stance on the ordination of women. The cardinal ushered McAleese and members of her delegation into a room to hear Mary Ann Glendon lecture them on the Church's views on women priests and where a heated argument then took place. McAleese rebuked him with the statement that she was "the President of Ireland and not just of Catholic Ireland". Cardinals Desmond Connell of Dublin and Cahal Daly of Armagh condemned Law's action.[4]

Sexual abuse scandal

Cardinal Law became the first high-level Church official to be accused of actively participating in the cover-up of child molestation.[5]

Resignation as Archbishop of Boston

Law submitted his resignation as Archbishop of Boston to the Vatican some years before he turned 75 and would be expected to resign; Pope John Paul II accepted his resignation on December 13, 2002. In 2003 Sean O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap. was named Archbishop of Boston.

In a statement Law said, "It is my fervent prayer that this action may help the Archdiocese of Boston to experience the healing, reconciliation and unity which are so desperately needed. To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness."[6] He remains a bishop and cardinal, which is a separate appointment. As a cardinal, he participated in the 2005 papal conclave.

Move to Rome

In December 2002, Law left Boston. It is often alleged[7] that he left just hours before state troopers arrived with subpoenas seeking his grand jury testimony. When the state attorney general issued his report entitled Child Sexual Abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston (July 23, 2003) he severely criticized Law mentioning that "the Archdiocese has shown an institutional reluctance to adequately address the problem and, in fact, made choices that allowed the abuse to continue" but did not allege that Law had tried to evade investigation and he did state that Law had not broken any laws because the law requiring abuse to be reported was not expanded to include priests until 2002.[8]

In May 2004, John Paul II appointed Law to a post in Rome, putting him in charge of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, with the title of Archpriest.[9]

Law was 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 in 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.[10]

Law reached age 80 on November 4, 2011, and lost the right to participate in any papal conclave and on the same day he ceased to hold his various Curial memberships. He remained as archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore until November 21, 2011, when Archbishop Santos Abril y Castelló was appointed as the new archpriest.


It was "commonly believed that [Law would] live out his retirement in Rome" when he was retired in 2011.[11] As of March 2013 he was still living at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.[12]

In May 2012, [13]

See also


  1. ^ Heirs of the FishermanPham, John-Peter, via
  2. ^ a b c Boston Globe, 2004, Abuse in the Catholic Church
  3. ^ a b c d e National Catholic Reporter, 27 December 2002
  4. ^ "Cardinal Law told Mary McAleese he was ‘sorry for Catholic Ireland to have you as President", IrishCentral, 7 October 2012
  5. ^ Deborah Becker (2010), Irish Catholics Call For Cardinal Law’s Resignation, Following Clergy Abuse Report,  
  6. ^ "Cardinal Law Resigns as Archbishop of Boston". NPR. December 15, 2002. Retrieved January 17, 2014. 
  7. ^ "bring-the-pope-to-justice", The Daily Beast/Newsweek, 2010/04/22.
  8. ^ "ReillyExecSum",
  9. ^ "Cardinal Law Given Post In Rome", The New York Times, May 28, 2004. Accessed April 11, 2008.
  10. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2002
  11. ^ Arsenault, Mark, "Law retires from post in Rome", Boston Globe, November 22, 2011. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
  12. ^ Allen, John L. Jr. (24 March 2013). "Debunking three 'urban legends' about Pope Francis". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 29 July 2013. 
  13. ^ Bratu, Becky, "US priests reportedly behind Vatican crackdown on nuns",, May 10, 2012. Retrieved 2013-02-05.

Additional bibliography

  • Bernard F. Law, Romanus Cessario,  

External links

  • Cardinal Bernard Law Biography
  • The Boston Globe
  • Information of the Press Office of the Holy See about Law
  • Bernard Francis Law at Catholic-Hierarchy
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 2004–21 November 2011
Succeeded by
Santos Abril y Castelló
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