BOSTON – Cardinal Bernard Law said he hoped his resignation would bring "healing, reconciliation and unity" to the Boston Archdiocese, after an agonizing year of revelations of sexual abuse by priests and failures by the church to confront the problem.
But Law's departure will not end the legal entanglements that he and the Boston Archdiocese face. Nor will it relieve the pressures that have brought the archdiocese to the brink of financial ruin.
Law is scheduled to be questioned by lawyers representing alleged victims of abuse starting Tuesday, and he has also been subpoenaed by the state's attorney general, who is investigating a possible cover-up by church officials.
Law arrived at Rome's Fiumicino airport Saturday, a day after tendering his resignation. An airport employee who refused to give his name later confirmed that Law left on a flight, but would not specify his destination. Vatican press officials gave no details about the cardinal's travel plans.
Donna Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, told NBC's Today Show on Saturday that Law would "take some time and decide what the future will hold for him.".
Morrissey said she had spoken with Law shortly before Friday's announcement that he would resign.
"All things considered he's doing OK," she said. "But what we have to remember here is to to put the victims and the archdiocese and the community of the faithful first."
The cardinal tendered his resignation to a "deeply saddened" Pope John Paul II in Rome, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. church leader toppled by the furor engulfing the Roman Catholic Church.
"It is my fervent prayer that this action may help the Archdiocese of Boston to experience the healing, reconciliation and unity which are so desperately needed," Law said in a statement released by the Vatican. "To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes, I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness."
Law's resignation only partly mollified the archdiocese's critics, many of whom had clamored for months for him to step aside.
"It's too little too late," said Anthony Muzzi, who says his priest molested him three decades ago. "It's gone beyond where it ever should have gone, with too much hurt to everybody."
The pope named Richard G. Lennon, an auxiliary bishop in Boston, to take temporary charge of the archdiocese, the fourth largest in the country with about 2 million Catholics.
Lennon offered prayers for the victims of sex abuse and pledged "to work toward healing as a church and furthering the mission of Jesus Christ within our community."
It was in Boston that the abuse scandal first erupted nearly a year ago, spreading across the country and plunging the church into an unprecedented moral and financial crisis. And it was Law who many felt was at the core of the malignancy.
He first offered his resignation in April, but the pope rejected the idea and the cardinal went back to work. The crisis intensified as more sordid details came to light, including allegations of priests using drugs and abusing teenagers training to be nuns, telling them it was God's will.
Since his appointment as head of the archdiocese in 1984, the 71-year-old Law had become one of the pope's closest American advisers.
But in January court papers showed that Law had reassigned former priest John Geoghan despite numerous accusations of sex abuse. The scandal quickly spread to dioceses across the country, as more victims came forward and Catholics demanded greater accountability from their leaders.
At least 325 priests have been removed from duty or resigned this year because of molestation claims. U.S. bishops scrambled to come up with a new policy for handling sex abuse allegations, rules that are still being reviewed by the Vatican.
In recent weeks, thousands more pages of personnel files from the Boston archdiocese were released, some offering disturbing details of misdeeds by priests. And earlier this week, 58 Boston-area priests issued a petition asking Law to step down.
The lawyers who obtained and released the files are scheduled to question Law beginning Tuesday in the lawsuit brought by alleged victims of the Rev. Paul Shanley.
"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," said attorney Roderick MacLeish, who represents more than 200 alleged victims.
Another plaintiffs' attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, said Friday he intended to file an additional 50 to 60 lawsuits against the archdiocese within another month.
The archdiocese is considering filing for bankruptcy protection in response to suits filed by more than 400 alleged victims.
"This is an extraordinary crisis we're going through, and it's not ending now," said the Rev. Robert Bullock, one of Law's critics. "We have a daunting task of rebuilding, and that's going to take a lot of wisdom and a lot of cooperation and effort by the church -- not just from the leaders, but from church members."
The scandal prompted the formation of a laity group called Voice of the Faithful, which was started by a handful of Catholics in the basement of a Wellesley church and now claims 25,000 members across the country.
Jim Post, president of the group, said Law's resignation brought relief and hope, but also sorrow. He said he believes Law thought he was doing the right thing when he kept allegations against priests secret and tried to deal with offending priests within the church structure.
"The great sadness here was that everything he was doing was sowing the seeds for where we are today," Post said.