Abuse victims struggle with reopened wounds after Law’s death

John Tlumacki/Globe staff

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley on Wednesday acknowledged that the death of former Cardinal Bernard Law had reopened old wounds for abuse survivors.

By , and Globe Staff 

For survivors of the clergy sex abuse scandal, the death of Cardinal Bernard F. Law on Tuesday reopened old wounds, stirring a familiar mix of rage and betrayal that the church they loved and trusted profoundly failed them.

“His death just brings back all of the pain and the suffering that he himself allowed to happen,” Robert Costello said at a news conference with other clergy sex abuse victims. “He was the cause of it. The absolute cause of it.”


Law, 86, died Tuesday. He had been living in Rome since 2004 after resigning as head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston over revelations that he failed to remove sexually abusive priests. The scandal would reverberate around the world — and Law’s death, and even the plans for his funeral, brought raw, angry memories to the surface.

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian (left) reached out to place his arm on clergy sexual abuse survivor Robert Costello as he broke down during a press conference on Wednesday.

A funeral Mass will be said for Law on Thursday at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, is scheduled to preside. Pope Francis is slated to perform a “final commendation” at the end of the ritual, according to the Vatican.

The pope’s participation is in keeping with his message of forgiveness and centuries of church tradition, officials said.

In a statement about Law’s death, Francis did not mention the clergy sex abuse scandal.

“I raise prayers for the repose of his soul, that the Lord God who is rich in mercy may welcome him in his eternal peace, and I send my apostolic blessing to those who share in mourning the passing of the cardinal,” he said.


Alexa MacPherson, who was molested as a child at St. Margaret Church in Dorchester, bristled at the elaborate plans for Law’s funeral.

“I would like to see him tied to a cross and burned instead,” she said.

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley will not attend the funeral, having just returned from a Rome visit in which he spent some time with Law in the hospital, his spokesman said.

At a news conference held at the Boston archdiocese’s offices in Braintree, O’Malley said he was committed to helping survivors to heal, preventing future abuse, and rebuilding trust in the church.

“We have anticipated this day, recognizing that it would open a lot of old wounds and cause much pain and anger in those who have suffered so much already,” he said. “We share in their suffering.”

Costello and other clergy sex abuse victims spoke at a news conference held by Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who has represented hundreds of victims. Phil Saviano, who was abused by a priest when he was 11, said that to this day he cannot comprehend how Law could protect priests who preyed on children.

“He chose to keep those child-molesting priests under his protection, and now is the judgment day,” he said. “Has he figured out how he’s going to explain this when he comes face to face with his maker?”

Garabedian said he has fielded a number of calls from clients since Law’s death.

“Respectfully, society has not lost a great protector of children,’’ Garabedian said. “Many victims still cannot believe that Cardinal Law allowed children to be sexually abused . . . he had the ability to warn . . . but instead he fed those children to pedophiles.”

Garabedian also reflected on victims who have died or committed suicide.

“My initial thoughts were about the victims who have passed, who have died in this struggle with clergy sexual abuse,’’ he said. “They just couldn’t handle the pain.”

Some victims remained angry with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church who in 2004 allowed Law to hold a high post in Rome that he held until his retirement in 2011.

“Some victims feel a sense of closure in that this chapter involving Cardinal Law has ended,’’ he said. “At the same time, they feel cheated because Cardinal Law was given a promotion.”

Among those who attended services or visited a Catholic church in Boston Wednesday, attitudes toward Law varied. One woman called Law a “criminal.”

Another defended him, saying he was likely following church precedent in his handling of abusive priests.

Bill Frew, 82, of South Boston, learned of Law’s death when his neighbor called him and broke the news.

“I thought he was a holy man,” Frew said as he stood outside of Gate of Heaven Church in South Boston after attending Mass.

Frew said it was unfortunate that Law got “caught up” in the abuse scandal, which ultimately overshadowed everything else he accomplished in a long career.

“It fell on him because of all the publicity,” he said. “He was probably doing what was standard procedure in those days.”

Priscilla Winter, 58, of Dorchester, comes downtown to St. Anthony Shrine to meditate. The news of Law’s death brought back difficult memories. She knew people whose children had been abused by John J. Geoghan, the priest whom Law protected.

“I remember,” she said. “It was horrifying.”

Law didn’t appear to suffer from the scandal, she said. He just moved on.

“He quietly left and went to Rome. He just left devastation behind,” she said. “He didn’t get the punishment he deserved.”

“Let’s face it. He was a criminal,” she added.

Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed Laura Crimaldi can be reached at
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John R Ellement can be reached at
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