Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign in 2002 as archbishop of Boston over a sex-abuse scandal after a two-decade reign as one of the highest-ranking Catholic officials in the United States, has died aged 86.
Law, whose resignation from his Boston post in 2002 shocked the Church and brought abuse into the open, had been living in Rome and was in declining health in recent years.
The Vatican did not give a cause of death but sources close to Law, who died in a hospital in Rome, said he had been suffering from the complications of diabetes, liver failure and a build up of fluids around the heart, known as pericardial effusion.
Law was archbishop of Boston for 18 years when Pope John Paul - who in 1984 had appointed Law to run one of the most prestigious and wealthy American archdioceses - reluctantly accepted his resignation on Dec. 13, 2002, after a tumultuous year in Church history.
Law had offered to step down several times that year, as a succession of devastating stories by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team showed how priests who sexually abused children had been moved from parish to parish for years under Law’s tenure without informing parishioners or law authorities.
When the pope finally accepted the resignation, it sent shock waves through the American Church and began a trickle down effect around the world, as the cover-up techniques used in Boston were discovered to have been used in country after country.
The Boston diocese avoided bankruptcy by agreeing to sell land and buildings for more than $100m (85m euros) to fund legal settlements for more than 500 abuse victims.
The story of how the Globe team doggedly brought the scandal to light in a city were few wanted to cross the politically powerful Church was immortalized in the 2015 film Spotlight, which won the Oscar for Best Picture.
The situation in Boston turned out to be the tip of an iceberg of abuse and its cover-up, where Churchmen preferred protecting the reputation of the institution rather than the innocence of children.
Thousands of cases came to light around the world as investigations encouraged long-silent victims to go public, shattering the Church’s reputation in places such as Ireland, and forcing it to pay some $2 billion (168 billion euros) in compensation.
Six months after his resignation the Massachusetts attorney general’s office announced that Law and others would not face criminal charges.
After a period in a monastery in the United States, Law moved to Rome. where he was appointed archpriest of the Rome Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
But victims of sexual abuse were outraged because it gave Law a second career and a golden parachute that allowed him to stay close to the center of power in Rome and serve as a member or adviser in several influential Vatican departments.
Law's resignation in December 2002 was a dismal end to an extraordinary career that started in the heat and protest of civil rights advocacy in the U.S. deep south and eventually touched the highest rungs of church power in Rome.
Cardinal Law was born in 1931 in Torreon, Mexico, the son of a US Air Force colonel and a musician. He graduated from Harvard University and was ordained a priest in 1961.