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Cardinal O’Malley apologizes to victims of priestly sexual abuse as he mourns Cardinal Law

Cardinal Sean O’Malley. Barry Chin/Globe Staff/File

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, reacting to the death of Cardinal Bernard Law, offered an apology on Wednesday to those who were sexually abused by Catholic priests during Law’s tenure of the leader of the Archdiocese of Boston.

“I am particularly cognizant of all who experienced the trauma of sexual abuse by clergy, whose lives were so seriously impacted by those crimes, and their families and loved ones,’’ he wrote. “To those men and women, I offer my sincere apologies for the harm they suffered, my continued prayers and my promise that the Archdiocese will support them in their effort to achieve healing.’’


O’Malley, who has been drawn both praise and criticism for his response to the sexual abuse crisis he inherited, emphatically laid responsibility on Law and the church leaders at the time for shuttling abusive priests around parishes without alerting the faithful of their past predatory behavior.

“Cardinal Law served at a time when the Church failed seriously in its responsibilities to provide pastoral care for her people, and with tragic outcomes failed to care for the children of our parish communities,’’ O’Malley said. “I deeply regret that reality and its consequences.”

O’Malley’s statement was also posted on the archdiocesan newspaper website, thebostonpilot.com, below a black and white photograph of Law. The homepage carries a Catholic News Service story reporting on Law’s death with the headline, “Cardinal Law, whose legacy was marred by sex abuse scandal, dies.”

O’Malley said that since his arrival in Boston as Law’s replacement, his “primary objective” has to be seeking the healing of abuse survivors and to work towards reconciling them with the church and the faith they once followed as well as the Catholic community as a whole,’’ he said, adding that current members of clergy ministered to those affected “even when they have been deeply challenged by the crisis that unfolded in the Church.”


O’Malley expressed regret that Law will forever be known for his role in the sexual abuse crisis, which overshadows what he said was a career where Law showed deep commitment to civil rights in the South and maintained his service to the poor, sick, and dying even as he gained prominence inside and outside the church.

“It is a sad reality that for many Cardinal Law’s life and ministry is identified with one overwhelming reality, the crisis of sexual abuse by priests,’’ he said. “This fact carries a note of sadness because his pastoral legacy has many other dimensions. Early in his priesthood in Mississippi, Cardinal Law was deeply engaged in the civil rights struggle in our country.”

Law also played key roles developing “collaborative relationships with the Greek Orthodox and Jewish communities in Boston. He was well known for visiting the sick, the dying, and the bereaved at all hours of the night and day, a ministry that extended to the rich and poor, the young and elderly, and people of all faiths.”

O’Malley said Law will be buried in Rome, where he completed his last assignment. Details of the funeral were not immediately available.

“In the Catholic tradition, the Mass of Christian Burial is the moment in which we all recognize our mortality, when we acknowledge that we all strive for holiness in a journey which can be marked by failures large and small,’’ O’Malley wrote. “I offer prayers for him and his loved ones as well as for all the people of the Archdiocese.”


John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.