Cardinal Bernard Law in 2008.

Cardinal Bernard Law in 2008.

Update: John Allen at National Catholic Reporter writes:

Reports that Pope Francis has ordered Cardinal Bernard Law to stay away from the Basilica of St. Mary Major and is about to ship him off to a monastery are “completely and totally false,” according to a Vatican spokesperson.

During a press briefing on Thursday about Pope Francis’ visit to St. Mary Major, one of the four pontifical basilicas in Rome, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said that Law had briefly greeted Francis and then exited the scene.

If this is the case, it’s too bad. Reports that Pope Francis moved to discipline Law offered hope to many Catholics with a glimpse that he was indeed committed to reform. On an anecdotal level, I was surprised how many of my friends and family, from across the political and ecclesial spectrums, read the original report and reacted positively.

For the victims and those whose faith was shaken, Francis has an opportunity to begin to right a massive wrong.

Original post below:

Boston Catholics (myself included) were rooting for Cardinal Sean O’Malley to ascend to the throne of St. Peter this week. That didn’t pan out, as we all know, but maybe Catholics there received something of a consolation prize.

The British tabloid The Daily Mail writes that Italian media is reporting that Boston’s disgraced former archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, 82, is being banished from his cushy residence by Pope Francis:

 But first days are all about making a good impression – even when you’re the Pope.

So when the appearance of a disgraced cardinal threatened to cast a shadow over his first engagement, Francis I made sure it couldn’t happen again – by banning him from his own church.

Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as Archbishop of Boston in 2002, after being accused of actively covering up for a litany of paedophile priests.’

Despite the scandal which exploded to engulf the entire church, he was given an honorary position at the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, in Rome.

Though now retired, the cardinal still enjoys a grace and favour apartment in the cathedral complex.

So hearing that the new Pope was offering prayers at the very same church, it seems he couldn’t resist a discreet peak.

But when Pope Francis recognised him, he immediately ordered that Law be removed, according to Italian media reports. He went on to command: ‘He is not to come to this church any more.’

One of the new Pope’s first acts will be to arrange new ‘cloistered’ accommodation for the disgraced cardinal, the Italian daily, Il Fatto Quotidiano, reported.

The firm stance was greeted with cautious enthusiasm by campaigners for victims of sexual abuse. David Clohessey of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said: ‘If he is permanently banned we are slightly encouraged.’

It was dark days in Boston when the Globe broke the story about the clergy sex abuse and subsequent cover up, leading to worldwide revelations that decades of evil had been swept under the rug by senior Catholic prelates. That Cardinal Law wasn’t charged with a crime, despite the best efforts of the Massachusetts attorney general, was bad enough. When he was whisked off to Rome and given a prestigious assignment, Catholics in Boston were stunned. And while Cardinal O’Malley has made great progress in restoring trust in the local church, this always left a bit of a sour taste. If the report is true, Pope Francis will have some good will from people in the Bay State.

And, more importantly, is this the first step in cleaning up the curia?

Categories: Institutions


Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O’Loughlin writes about religion and politics from Washington, D.C., paying close attention to the role of the Catholic Church in public life. His writing has appeared in Religion & Politics, the Jesuit magazine America, on, and in Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership.


  1. Thanks for covering this. But just so you know, Cdl. Law was not honored with the post at St. Mary Major. He has been made pastor of that church upon being named a cardinal, since all cardinals are assigned a parish in Rome. Like most, as archbishop, he was too busy to actually serve in person in Rome, so a vicar was appointed for him. When he lost his job as archbishop, he simply went to work at his remaining job.

    • Sorry, Dan – thats not correct. Cardinal Law’s Titular Church given to him in 1985 when he was made a cardinal by JP2 was Santa Susana. He was made Archpriest of Maria Maggiore by JP2 in 2004

  2. My recollection is that the MA AG did not have the courage to charge Cardinal Law, Cardinal Law did not have the courage to remain in Boston, and the Pope did not have the courage to reject Cardinal Law’s escape to Rome. Now, 17% of Catholics in Boston attend Mass with any regularity. It is time for Cardinal Law to return to Boston and confess to his sins. It is no longer a legal issue but a moral matter. How can he face his final days without making peace with his God?

    • National Catholic Reporter? I wouldn’t wrap fish with that rag.

      Don’t know if the incident is true, but a more heterodox source than the NCR is hard to find.

      • And how often do you lurk there? And why? If you don’t then how do you know so much about the NCR’s “heterodoxy?” Sounds as if you like a little masochism with your morning bile.

  3. I pray that our new Pope insist we (American) Catholics keep religion out of politics.
    We won’t move our church forward if we don’t heed Jesus’s own words.

    Mark 12:17: Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.

    • Steven Harper

      Right on, Peggy. American Catholics sound, at times, as politically shrill as any other conservative or liberal politicos. A measure of humility would help temper the noise. A larger measure of “veritatis splendor” would could be both catholic and Catholic.

    • Mark Schmittle

      I may be interpreting your post wrong, but if by “keep religion out of politics” you mean abandoning moral issues, that is about as vacuous a statement as can be made. Politics is about nothing if it is not about legislating the moral principles held by the people. Every law manifests some moral principle. As far as your quote from our Lord, he was teaching that we need to support and respect civil authority because it ultimately is derived from God. He was not speaking about keeping moral issues out of politics. Catholic social doctrine stresses that Christians have a grave moral responsibility to instill Christian moral doctrine into legislation to the degree they are able, even if this means no more than a vote.

      • You are the last person on earth with morals! Please shut the hell about and keep your righteous attitude and opinions to yourself. When you have the balls to have an affair with my wife and still go on about morals.. It’s disgustin!

      • Mark Schmittle is a Catholic priest who is screwing my wife Angela Emric! He is disgusting and the last person who should say anything about morals!!!

      • The church should tgrough you out on the street and excummincate you! Mark aschmittle is a rogue priest who can’t see his own crimes and sins against the Catholic Church and innocent victims!! Please help me to expose this monster!!

  4. Patrick Mullany

    You are reporting on fiction. Never happened. Cardinal Law and the new Pope are well known to each other. Cardinal Law was very active in South America as well as Cuba. He is no stranger to our new Pope.
    Boston will always linger on past history and interpret it the way in which they choose. Cardinal Law made mistakes in handling the abuse cases but so did the entire Church, including Rome. All of the cases Cardinal Law is held responsible for were first handled by Cardinal Mederos and sent to Rome for adjudication. Nothing was ever done in each case sent. Who do we blame? Cardinal Law? Why do you not write on the history of the real Cardinal Law and the work he did for social justice in the south; the work he did for the Vietnam refugees; his work with other faith based Priests in bringing them into the Catholic Church; and finally how he touched the poor in Boston and beyond.
    Cardinal Law never molested anyone but he used an ill advised method of handling Priests that broke the law. In hind sight, we would be better served if every case was referred to law enforcement and have the perpetrator face justice. Let’s look forward with the new Pope and walk in humility towards the forgiveness of sins of the past. Perhaps then the people of Boston will return to fill up the many vacant churches in their area.

    • Having read Cardinal Law’s deposition transcripts, I don’t see how you can not conclude he knowingly allowed predators to move from parish to parish, and knew the congregations would not be informed. There is a reason why he was removed while others were not. While I agree with you that there was a lot more to the crisis than Cardinal Law, his actions speak for itself.

  5. Is the news report true or not? As a Bostonian, I was almost clapping with the news, but was also not believing it as true fact. I hope it is true. I cannot imagine a smart man like Pope Francis deliberately visiting with Law. Just is not that “stupid”. So, if it is true, very nicely done. If not, shame on those who create these rumors!

  6. People who think the pope would go to Santa Maria Maggiore to do anything that is not just go to pray to the Madonna, as he said he would the day he was elected, don’t really understand how a devout catholic feels and thinks. He was just thinking about his holy mother Mary and resorting to her help for his new huge reponsibility. And the suggestion alone of a reaction as described, that he said on the spot that cardinal Law was to be removed and “never come back to this church”, it’s just plainly ludicrous. He may remove Law, he may not. But if he does, he would never do it like that, as an impromptu reaction, and in such uncharitable way. I won’t defend cardinal Law, but just say that everybody makes mistakes. Some people seem to think that the way to deal with sin is to stone the sinner. Well that is not what our Master taught. I won’t defend him but I won’t be the one to hurl the first stone.

  7. I pray it’s true………Law should be banned and sent away for all the harm he did to the people of GOD and HIS PRIESTS. He lives in Luxury while his priests and victims do NOT!!!

  8. Thank you, Patrick Mullany. It is obvious you are concerned with the concept of truth. The Boston Globe wanted Candinal Bernard Law’s head on a platter long before 2002 for his steadfast pronouncements of Roman Catholic teachings. Knowing that it was homosexuality, not pedophilia, which was at the core of the problem within the ranks of the clerics, they spun the revelations – and continue to do so. The John Jay independent study put it in true perspective. Veritas!

  9. Rosina San Paolo

    Michael, I accidently found your article “Consolation for Boston Catholics”. I am very glad that I did!
    I began working for, then, Bishop Law at the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese in 1973. It was hard to see him go but still, a joy to see him ordained as a Cardinal for the Catholics of Boston.
    Michael, you do NOT KNOW the man!!! You, and those like you who govern the press, continually write malicious things about him. You pour out all the uglness that your minds can conceive to pound his worth into fragmented pieces of cruel and ugly hate!
    Your article tore my heart apart and that horrible picture of this good man
    only added to your curel behavior.
    This is a “saint” that you berate. I am 90 years old and I am writing my autobiography. The title is “A Single Note”. I’ll let you know when I have it
    published and then you will read about this saintly man in my life and those in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.

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