Cardinal who covered up sexually abusive priests dies

Cardinal Bernard Law, the disgraced former archbishop of Boston who failed to stop child molesters in the priesthood, has died "following a long illness," the Vatican announced Wednesday. He was 86.

After the sex abuse scandal broke in Boston, Law was forced to resign in 2002. The Catholic church moved him to serve as the archpriest of the Papal Liberian Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, one of the most important churches in the Catholic religion.

Law's inaction was revealed in The Boston Globe's Spotlight investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic church. It was found Law and other bishops prior to him had covered for pedophile priests in the Boston Ardicocese, moving abusive priests from parish to parish, despite knowledge of their sexual abuse of young children without alerting police or parents.

Law apologized to victims of one priest, Rev. John Geoghan, a serial abuser. He insisted Geoghan's abuse was in the past, CNN reported. Law, one of the most powerful and influential figures in the Catholic church, never faced any criminal repercussions.

Cardinal Bernard Law
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Cardinal Bernard Law
Celebration for St Joseph, the Holy Virgin Mary's husband. A clos-up of cardinal Bernard Francis Law during the mass celebrated by Pope Francis with the rite of the bishop's ordination. St Peter, Vatican City, 19th March 2016 (Photo by Grzegorz Galazka\Archivio Grzegorz Galazka\Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 27: Former Archbishop of Boston cardinal Bernard Law (C) chats with cardinal Camillo Ruini (L) during the Pope Benedict XVI's final general audience in St. Peter's Square on February 27, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. The Pontiff attended his last weekly public audience before stepping down tomorrow. Pope Benedict XVI has been the leader of the Catholic Church for eight years and is the first Pope to retire since 1415. He cites ailing health as his reason for retirement and will spend the rest of his life in solitude away from public engagements. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
US Cardinal Bernard Francis Law (2D-R) arrives with other cardinals on St Peter's square ahead of Pope Benedict XVI last weekly audience on February 27, 2013 at the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI will hold the last audience of his pontificate in St Peter's Square on Wednesday on the eve of his historic resignation as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI,ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Italian cardinal Angelo Scola (L) and US cardinal Bernard Francis law take place for a prayer on March 6, 2013 at St Peter's basilica. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 13: Archbishop emeritus of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law (L) attends the Ash Wednesday service held by Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter's Basilica on February 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Ash Wednesday opens the liturgical 40-day period of Lent, a time of prayer, fasting, penitence and alms giving leading up to Easter. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - NOVEMBER 24: Former archbishop of Boston cardinal Bernard Law (L) chats with cardinal Roger Etchegaray (R) at the Saint Peter's Basilica during a concistory held by pope Benedict XVI on November 24, 2012 in Vatican City, Vatican. The Pontiff installed 6 new cardinals during the ceremony, who will be responsible for choosing his successor. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - OCTOBER 21: Former archbishop of Boston cardinal Bernard Law attends a canonisation ceremony held by Pope Benedict XVI in St Peter's Square on October 21, 2012 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pontiff named today seven new saints: Jacques Berthieu, Pedro Calungsod, Giovanni Battista Piamarta, Maria Carmen Salles y Barangueras, Marianne Cope, Caterina Tekakwitha and Anna Schaffer. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
ROME - MARCH 22: The Vatican met with Pope Benedict XVl for a meeting. Cardinal Bernard Law was in attendance along with other cardinals in Synod Hall. (Photo by David L Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
American Cardinal Bernard Law attends the celebration of First Vespers of the First Sunday in Advent, for the beginning of the new Liturgical Year. (Photo by Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis via Getty Images)

The ex-bishop held an important position in the Catholic church prior to his resignation, serving as an influential confidante of Pope John Paul II. He was also a regular in the White House during the administration of President George W. Bush.

Appointed by Pope John Paul II in 1984, Law became archbishop of the Boston Archdiocese, which consists of 362 parishes serving 2.1 million members, the third largest in the country. It was also in 1984 when Law received a letter from a bishop expressing concerns about Geoghan.

In 1985, the pope elevated Law to cardinal. He was just one of 13 Americans holding that office at the time. Given his connections at the Vatican and in Washington, it was widely speculated that Law was in line to become the first American pope.

As the sex abuse scandal widened, Law offered to step down in April 2002, but the pope rejected it. Later in the year, however, a judge presiding over the child rape case of Rev. Paul Shanley ordered Law to testify, according to CNN.

Law said he was unaware of allegations Shanley had abused children until 1993. Law also testified about his supervision of Geoghan, saying he depended on his assistants to investigate the charges. In August of that year, however, he acknowledged under oath he knew about a monetary settlement between the Boston Archdiocese and victims of clergy abuse. That settlement was rescinded shortly after his testimony.

In December 2002, Law was called before a grand jury as part of a criminal investigation of senior church officials who supervised priests accused of sexually abusing children," according to The Boston Globe. Just a few days following his testimony, however, Law resigned as chairman of the Catholic University of America's board of trustees and stepped down as Boston's archbishop.

Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney who represented dozens of people sexually abused by priests told NBC News that, for the victims, Law's death resurrects painful memories of the abuse they suffered at the hands of men they trusted, and the archbishop's failure to protect them.

"Bernard Law could have prevented many children from being sexually abused," Garabedian said. "He knew what Father John Geoghan had done and he refused to notify the public. He refused to protect the innocent. Law's death is a reminder — his name is salt in the wound of many victims."

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