The Vatican on Wednesday said that Cardinal Bernard Law, a key figure in the Catholic Church’s child sexual abuse scandal, had died early that morning.
Law, 86, was once among the church’s most important leaders in the U.S. before recently becoming ill and getting hospitalized in Rome.
The former archbishop of Boston fell from grace, however, as he repeatedly failed to stop child molesters working in the priesthood.
The Boston Globe in 2002 began a series of reports that used church records to reveal that Law had frequently transferred abusive clergy.
Law made the personnel moves among parish assignments for years without alerting parents or police of the changes.
Catholics across America soon began clamoring to know whether their bishops had done the same to hide possible child abuse.
The resulting scandal ultimately became the worst crisis in American Catholicism, and it upended Law’s once-respected role in the faith.
Law initially refused to comment on the expanding controversy, before next apologizing and promising reform.
Thousands more church records were released, however, detailing fresh instances where Law and others expressed more care for accused priests than for victims.
Law then faced rare backlash from some of his own priests, prompting the cardinal to ask Pope John Paul II if he could resign in 2002 and the pontiff granting his request.
“It is my fervent prayer that this action will help the archdiocese of Boston to experience the healing, reconciliation and unity which are so desperately needed,” he said that December upon exiting.
Pope Francis made no comment about Law’s death during his weekly general audience Wednesday.
Francis is expected, however, to send an official letter of condolence later that day before celebrating Law’s funeral Mass, an honor given to all Rome-based cardinals.
More than 6,500 U.S. priests have been accused of molesting children since 1950, according to media reports and studies commissioned by American bishops.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.