Law, 71, said new policies and programs have been put in place in the past 11 months that he hoped would prevent future abuses by priests. Although he had hoped to remain head of the fourth-largest U.S. archdiocese, "It came to be ever more clear to me that the most effective way I might serve the church at this moment was to resign."
Law expressed uncertainty about his future, and said he plans to take a brief vacation with fellow priests after Christmas and later retreat to a monastery. He said he would then live outside the archdiocese, which covers eastern Massachusetts, but did not say where.
Law had become the lightning rod for the displeasure of alleged victims, parishioners and, eventually, fellow priests who criticized his handling of the scandal that ensnared dozens of priests and eventually spread to dioceses around the country.
The crisis erupted nearly a year ago, after previously secret church documents revealed that Law had shuffled offending priests from parish to parish, rather than removing them. Law's resignation came as thousands of additional documents were released in recent weeks, detailing how the archdiocese responded to allegations against priests.
Among the most shocking documents concerned a priest trading cocaine for sex, another having sex with teenage girls studying to become nuns by telling them he was the "second coming of Christ," and another fathering at least two children and abandoning his lover as she overdosed.
The files were released by lawyers representing more than 400 alleged victims suing the archdiocese. A judge ordered the archdiocese to hand over the files to plaintiffs' attorneys.
Criticism against Law intensified with the release of the files, culminating with a petition signed by nearly 60 priests in the archdiocese calling on Law to resign. The archdiocese on Monday handed over personnel files on 28 additional priests who faced allegations, and attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represents many alleged victims, said he expects to file several dozen more lawsuits in the coming weeks.
In a statement released in Rome after Pope John Paul II accepted his resignation Friday, Law begged for forgiveness from "all those who have suffered" from his failure to crack down on rogue priests who molested children for decades. He has apologized several times over the past year for his role in how abuse cases were handled.
The Most Rev. Richard Lennon, an auxiliary bishop in Boston, has been named to take temporary charge of an archdiocese. Law first offered his resignation in April, but the pope turned him down, and the cardinal returned in hopes of calming the scandal.
On Monday, Law thanked God for "the grace and for the privilege to have served as archbishop," and pledged his prayers and support for Lennon. When reporters tried to question him as he left, Law tapped on a black binder that held his statement and said, "I'm just going to let it go."