VATICAN CITY – Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in disgrace as Boston’s archbishop in 2002 after the priest sex abuse scandal exploded in the United States, has left his subsequent job as head of a major Roman basilica.
The Vatican said Monday that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted the 80-year-old Law’s resignation as archpriest of St. Mary Major basilica and had named as Law’s replacement Spanish Monsignor Santos Abril y Castello.
Law’s 2004 appointment as the archpriest of one of Rome’s most important basilicas had been harshly criticized by advocates for clerical sex abuse victims, who say bishops who covered up for pedophile priests should be punished, not rewarded.
Law turned 80 earlier this month.
While the pope could have kept him on longer – the dean of the College of Cardinals, for example, turns 84 this week – Benedict decided to replace him.
The Vatican announcement made no mention of Law’s resignation, though, merely noting in a perfunctory, two-line statement that Benedict had named a new archpriest for the basilica.
Law became the first – and so far only – U.S. bishop to resign for mishandling cases of priests who sexually abused priests.
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He had been named in hundreds of lawsuits accusing him of failing to protect children from known child molesters. After 18 years leading the nation’s fourth-largest archdiocese, Law resigned in 2002, having asked Pope John Paul II twice before receiving permission to step down before reaching the mandatory retirement age for bishops of 75.
Ten months after he left office, Law’s successor, now-Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley helped broker an $85 million settlement with more than 550 victims of pedophile priests.
Law remains a member of a half-dozen important Vatican congregations, including the office that helps the pope select bishops. Such appointments are for renewable five-year terms and it’s not clear when each one expires or whether he’ll seek to stay on.
While he was in Rome, Law was a frequent presence at all major Vatican ceremonial and diplomatic events, a lifestyle that galled many abuse victims who have long insisted that the Vatican crack down on bishops who transfer abusive priests rather than report them to police.
Law’s successor at St. Mary Major – one of the four basilicas under the direct jurisdiction of the Vatican – retired earlier this year as the Vatican’s ambassador to Slovenia and Macedonia.
Abril y Castello, 76, is also the No. 2 prelate who helps take care of matters dealing with a papal death and runs the Vatican until a new pontiff is elected in a conclave.
Now that he is 80, Law can no longer vote in a conclave, though he remains a cardinal.