And after months of apologies that never seemed to sink in, over the last two weeks he has added a degree of human contact that has made his familiar expressions of sorrow and humility seem, to the unhappy priests, angry victims, and restive laypeople he has met with, more believable.
Although his legal posture remains tough, his public posture seems to be softening: Today, he plans to apologize again, from the pulpit at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, in response to a request from the victims he met with last week.
''Up until recently, he's been something of a recluse, appearing only before audiences that he knew would be warm to him - I can't remember an appearance before any group that would have been at all critical, or even neutral,'' said Thomas H. O'Connor, emeritus professor of history at Boston College and the author of ''Boston Catholics.'' ''But over the past couple of weeks, he seems to be slowly emerging in a series of choreographed steps, trying to see if the atmosphere has changed any and making what seem to be some tentative outreaches.''
Law's reemergence into the limelight seemed to begin about a month ago, when the cardinal showed up at the Oct. 4 dedication of the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge, sitting patiently as Bruce Springsteen told a story about meeting the pope. In some ways, the appearance was unremarkable - Law was close with Zakim, who was the executive director of the Anti-Defamation League of New England - but after Law canceled all his graduation speeches last spring and turned down an honorary degree for fear of being a distraction, the appearance reflected a new level of comfort that the cardinal could show up in public without attracting a horde of hecklers.