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Bernard Law, Benedict XVI, and The Institutional Rape of Children Within The Catholic Church

Updated on August 21, 2013

The Breaking of a Very Dross Laden Dam

Father Bernard Francis Law whose promising Civil Rights activism with the Mississippi Leadership Conference and Mississippi Human Relations Council earned him death threats in the 1960's was named the Archbishop of Boston on January 11, 1984. He was installed in March of that year and made a member of the College of Cardinals the following year.

After widespread allegations of Child Rape and Molestation in the Catholic Churches within the jurisdiction of the Boston Archdiocese began to come to light at the turn of the century sixty five parishes were closed. This caused an investigation into Archdioceses around the world. The US Council of Catholic Bishops published a report in 2004 outlining 10,667 allegations against 4,392 priests between the years 1950 and 2002.

Bernard Law was forced to resign in December of 2002 after the discovery of documents outlining an active knowledge of the pederasty epidemic within his Archdiocese and measures taken to shield offending priests from prosecution including the active relocation of them to other parishes. In all the Boston Archdiocese alone has settled for 85 million dollars with 552 victims.

Resignation From The Boston Archdiocese

Bernard Law was the first major Roman Catholic Church official accused of actively covering up the clerical rape and molestation within his Archdiocese. When under Grand Jury questioning he reported that it was his practice to refer a Priest accused of sexual misconduct with a child to a mental health professional before deciding to reinstate him. The Massachusetts State Attorney General said of Law in his report Child Sexual Abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston that "the Archdiocese has shown an institutional reluctance to adequately address the problem and, in fact, made choices that allowed the abuse to continue." Because the Mandated Reporter Laws that require a report be made to a state hotline in all cases in which child abuse or neglect is suspected did not extend to the clergy until 2002 Law was not actually guilty of any prosecutable offense.

In a statement following his resignation he said "To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness." He retained the titles of both Bishop and Cardinal. He left Boston just hours before Massachusetts State Troopers were able to serve him a subpoena for further Grand Jury testimony.


A Sinecure in Rome

Pope John Paul II appointed Law to the post of Archpriest of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome in 2004. Because the Vatican is a sovereign state this shielded him from any further testimony in secular criminal or civil courts.

He further took part in The Papal Conclave of 2005 following the Death of John Paul II resulting in the election of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI.

When Archbishop Santos Abril y Castelló was appointed the new Archpriest of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in 2011, Bernard Law retired from the priesthood though he still lives in the Basilica in Rome.

Bernard Law's story, of course, constitutes only a small portion of the Catholic Church's sexual offenses toward children but the events in Boston do represent the tipping point that made the world aware of the breath of the abuse and the depth of the cover up which extended all the way to the Pope in Rome. What's more the Pope's reappointment of Law to a new position in Rome helped shield the Catholic Church from further embarrassment and from secular justice.

The various investigations of individual Rape and Molestation are ongoing and have extended to Canada, Ireland, Norway, Belgium, Austria, Australia, and many other countries. The Catholic Church has paid billions in both settlements and civil lawsuit damages to victims worldwide. In the U.S. about 38 priests have been convicted of criminal charges receiving prison sentences ranging from 30 days to life with an average of about 10 years. Pope Benedict was himself named in a lawsuit in 2005 in Texas for his part in allegedly conspiring to cover up the molestation of three plaintiffs. He sought and obtained immunity, with the helpful intercession of President George W. Bush, as head of state of The Vatican and head of the Holy See. The Department of State "recognized and allowed the immunity of Pope Benedict XVI from this suit."

In a similar case in Cincinnati in 2008, a US Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Vatican Sovereign Immunity. In 2011, 2 German lawyers filed charges against Pope Benedict with the International Criminal Court on charges that he both covered up the sex crimes and protected the perpetrators while heading up, "The Congregation For The Doctrine of The Faith," the oldest of the nine congregations of The Roman Curia. While in this position he wrote a letter to the Catholic Bishops in which he ordered them not to talk with any law enforcement agencies investigating child rape and molestation by priests. He threatened them with excommunication and cautioned that the matter should handled, "in the most secretive way restrained by perpetual silence."

Benedict XVI of course stepped down as Pope earlier this year, making his the first papacy not to end in death in 700 years.

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