A series of reports by The Boston Globe is credited for exposing widespread child abuse by Catholic clergy that rocked the Roman Catholic Church, and ultimately led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law.
Law, who had been ill, passed away early Wednesday morning in Rome at the age of 86, according to the Vatican.
The former archbishop of Boston, Law was once one of the most important leaders in the U.S. Catholic church. He broadly influenced Vatican appointments to American dioceses, helped set priorities for the nation's bishops and was favored by Pope John Paul II.
But after the Boston Globe's investigative Spotlight team used church records in 2002 to reveal that Law had transferred abusive clergy among parish assignments for years without alerting parents or police, Catholics in the Boston area demanded Law's resignation.
"We found that Cardinal Law and other senior officials in the Boston Archdiocese knew that there were priests sexually molesting children and Cardinal Law and other bishops simply moved these priests from parish to parish," said Boston Globe reporter Mike Rezendes, who was part of the Spotlight Team.
Catholics around the country also demanded to know whether their bishops had done the same.
"When we published our first story revealing that he was at the center of a cover-up of clergy sexual abuse it was like an atom bomb going off," said Rezendes.
Law eventually resigned in 2004 and was appointed archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, one of four principal basilicas in Rome. He retired in 2011.
The Spotlight Team went on to receive a Pulitzer Prize for their ongoing reporting, which was then made into the film "Spotlight."
Team members say Law's death will likely open old wounds for many.
"The announcement of his death inevitably going to remind people of a terribly horrific time in the history of the American church of which he became an emblematic figure," said Walter Robinson, former Boston Globe Spotlight team editor.
"I think Cardinal Law's passing is the end of a long, sad, tragic chapter in the annals in the contemporary church," said Rezendes.