BOSTON – The resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law brought relief, prayers and some sadness from Roman Catholics who watched the priest sex abuse scandal mushroom over the past year.
"Thank heaven," said David Clohessy, director of the national group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "I hope there will be thousands of Boston Catholics and hundreds of Boston survivors who will feel better as a result."
Law's resignation was accepted by Pope John Paul II on Friday after nearly a year of almost daily revelations about priests accused of sexually abusing children over decades and the church officials who covered it up. While he will no longer serve as Boston archbishop, he remains a cardinal, which means he could move into another church post.
The sex abuse crisis erupted in Boston in January as church documents became public during the trial of defrocked priest John Geoghan, and it quickly spread across the country, with thousands of allegations of abuse by clergy surfacing and hundreds of lawsuits filed.
While many victims had been strident in their criticism of Law and had called for his resignation months ago, some were more subdued when the moment came Friday.
"I don't want to say I'm happy because I'm not," said Anthony Muzzi Jr., who says he was molested by the Rev. John J. Geoghan for several years in the 1960s, starting from the time he was 11 years old.
"I truly believe in my heart that Law was not the only person who knew all the bad things that were going on," said Muzzi, who was among 86 alleged Geoghan victims and their relatives who reached a $10 million settlement with the archdiocese in September.
Voice of the Faithful, a lay Catholic group formed in response to the crisis, said the resignation is a sad, although necessary, step in the church's ability to recover from the scandal.
"There is relief and there is hope, but ... there is a profound sense of sadness about this," said Jim Post, president of the group, which claims 25,000 members across the country.
"What we have to do now is turn 180 degrees, use openness, not secrecy," he said.
Boston attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represents more than 200 alleged victims, said Law's resignation was only a beginning to the process of helping victims.
"No one should believe that with the resignation of Cardinal Law this problem has ended, though this church is moving in a positive direction with this resignation," he said. "This is a day — potentially — of the start of reconciliation."
The Rev. Keith Pecklers, a Jesuit priest from Rome on sabbatical at Boston College, said Law's resignation provides a "cathartic moment" for the church. "The lesson is to tell the truth, and for church leaders, for priests and bishops to not pretend to be otherworldly — up on a pedestal — to acknowledge the faults and foibles in each one of us," he said.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Morrissey said the cardinal's resignation clearly would not eliminate the crisis.
"I don't think it's going to be over for our lifetime," she said. "We should remember it always so it doesn't happen again."
The state attorney general is investigating the sex abuse scandal and allegations that church leaders tried to cover it up, and that investigation will continue, Attorney General Thomas Reilly said Friday. Cardinal Law and several bishops under him were subpoenaed last week to testify before a grand jury.
"This is far beyond one person," Reilly said on NBC's Today show. "There are other people that knew, other bishops, perhaps even the Vatican that were aware of the scope of the scandal."
At St. Anthony Shrine in downtown Boston, parishioner John Colbert, 38, said Law was wrongly shouldering the blame for a nationwide problem, but he acknowledged that Law had lost his ability to lead, especially after 58 of the 550 archdiocese's active priests called on him to resign.
"It's not the policy of one man," Colbert said, but he added, "It's very difficult to move forward with that many people against you."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., called Law's resignation the "right thing to do for the victims, their families, the church and the whole of the Catholic community.
"Today is the first step toward a new dawn in our hearts and in our church," Kennedy said.