Vermont Catholic Bishop Reacts to Death of Disgraced Cardinal Law

A friend of Cardinal Bernard Law, the disgraced ex-archbishop of Boston, asked Catholics for mercy and prayer following his death at age 86.

"I consider him a friend," said Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, Vermont. "He was a friend, but like all of us with our friends, we recognize the good and the bad in them."

Under Law's watch, it was discovered the Archdiocese of Boston failed to stop pedophile priests from hurting kids. Law was forced to resign 15 years ago, after the Boston Globe uncovered evidence Law shuffled offending priests between parishes without notifying the public or taking steps to seek justice for survivors.

Prior to the revelations, Law ordained Coyne. During the fallout from the priest abuse scandal, Coyne was working closely with Law and served as the spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston.

"I would see him at least once a day — he was a man of patient virtue," Coyne recalled of the time he spent working with Law. "I didn't see him angry — not in any vindictive way."

Bishop Coyne now leads the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington. He said he last saw Law 14 months ago in Rome, when his memory, heart and mobility were failing.

Coyne told necn Law never stopped saying he was sorry for betraying children's safety, the trust of families, and for harming the Church.

"When we discovered the real brokenness and sin that was in the Church, and his part of that, he paid the price," Coyne recalled.

Jerry O'Neill, a prominent Vermont attorney who represented roughly four dozen survivors of priest abuse in the Burlington diocese, said Wednesday that Cardinal Law deserves to be condemned.

Jerry O’Neill, a lawyer for survivors of clergy sex abuse, remains highly critical of Cardinal Bernard Law.

O'Neill helped secure multi-million dollar settlements for clients who were victimized by priests in the Burlington diocese 35 or more years ago.

The attorney highlighted in court hearings evidence that that those priests would get moved around to different parishes to cover their crimes. O'Neill said that many of his clients thought of Cardinal Law as arrogant and terrible, adding he believes Law enabled abuse of children by taking steps that would protect offenders.

Many of those clients laid blame at Law's feet for some of the hurt caused to children, their families, and the church's reputation, O'Neill said.

"I think that they felt a substantial injustice for a long time, because he was permitted to go to Rome and be given a very plum assignment over there," O'Neill said. "I think a lot of people will say as to him, ‘good riddance.'"

Bishop Coyne acknowledged the considerable hurt many across New England still feel, including toward Law.

"I know that there are many out there who have different opinions of the man, and hold much different views of him than I, and I understand that completely," Coyne said. "But I would ask all of us to kind of walk forward in mercy and prayer for the repose of his soul — as we pray for everyone's souls when they pass on to God."

Coyne said he is confident the Catholic Church today is one of the safest places in the country, because of policies put in place following the crisis that unfolded with Cardinal Law at its center. Among those new policies are rules on background checks for church staff and volunteers, and making personnel mandated reporters — requiring that they tell authorities about evidence of victimization.

Coyne also said he welcomes the news that Law will be buried quickly, saying it's the time to close this chapter, while maintaining a focus on healing in the church.

Advocates for survivors of priest sexual abuse called on the Vatican to resist celebrating Cardinal Law's life.

Coyne said he expects the funeral will be relatively quiet compared to other services for Catholic cardinals. There were no tributes to Law made at Wednesday Masses in Vermont following his death, Coyne noted.

O'Neill praised the current leadership of the Burlington diocese for taking safety very seriously. He said he believes if a problem were to be detected in the diocese today, he is confident it would be reported and that strong legal action would be taken.

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