Child sexual abuse was not widely prosecuted "in earnest" until the 1980s, Vieth said. While Massachusetts was slow in extending child protection laws to abuse committed by clergy, he added, "I would say the whole country has been slow, and Massachusetts is just in keeping with it."
Boston attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represents hundreds of alleged clerical abuse victims, said the state Legislature "dragged its heels" in updating child abuse laws, hampering Reilly from prosecuting church leaders.
"His hands were tied," MacLeish said. "The power of the church here has been very strong, and our [child sexual abuse] laws are really bad in Massachusetts."
Twenty-one states -- including California and Massachusetts -- include members of the clergy among professionals mandated to report known or suspected instances of child abuse or neglect. In 18 other states, any person who suspects child abuse or neglect is required to report to authorities.
Reilly targeted Law and his top lieutenants -- most of whom now sit as bishops elsewhere in the country -- for consistently placing children at risk in the Boston Archdiocese.
Law resigned as archbishop in December. He continues to carry the title of cardinal and has been assigned to work as a chaplain to a convent in Maryland.
His successor, Bishop Sean Patrick O'Malley of Palm Beach, Fla., will be installed Wednesday.