U.S. Catholics are reacting with a mixture of relief and sadness to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law as head of the Boston archdiocese. Pope John Paul accepted Cardinal Law's resignation at the Vatican Friday. Cardinal Law has been at the center of a sex abuse scandal involving Catholic clergy that has hurt the church among both believers and non-believers.

The pope refused Cardinal Law's initial offer to resign last April. But this time he accepted, well aware that calls for the cardinal to step down as head of the Boston Archdiocese have been mounting among lay Catholics.

Cardinal Law issued a written statement in Boston that was read by his spokeswoman, Donna Morrissey. "To all those who have suffered from his shortcomings and mistakes, the cardinal both apologizes and, from them, he begs their forgiveness. It is the cardinal's fervent prayer that this action may help the archdiocese of Boston to experience healing, reconciliation and unity, which are so desperately needed."

Cardinal Law had led the Boston Archdiocese since 1984, and is the most senior American cardinal in the Catholic Church. But over the past year, he found himself at the center of a swirling sex abuse scandal involving Catholic clergy.

Lay Catholics began demanding his resignation earlier this year, after it came to light that he and other church officials routinely transferred priests from one parish to another, even though they were aware of allegations of sexual abuse involving young people.

Rodney Ford's son Greg is one of hundreds of Boston area Catholics who say they were abused by priests when they were young. Mr. Ford said the cardinal's resignation is a first, but important step in healing the rift between Catholics and the church hierarchy. "I think, if the cardinal is very sincere when he apologizes, that we would accept his apology," he said. "But that doesn't mean that he is not going to be held accountable. He will be, and that is what today is all about."

More than 400 alleged victims of sexual abuse by clergy are suing the Boston Archdiocese. Church officials there also face a growing criminal investigation into allegations that they engaged in a cover up for years to keep the abuse problems quiet.

David Clohessy is director of a group called the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. He said the Law resignation is only a start in dealing with a problem that has done immeasurable harm to the Catholic Church's reputation. "Certainly, I hope and pray that many, many thousands of Boston-area Catholics and hundreds of Boston-area victims will feel some relief from this. At the same time, though, we can't delude ourselves into thinking that Cardinal Law is the problem," he said. "He is a symptom, he's a symbol, but, unfortunately, the patterns of secrecy and insensitivity that caused this problem still exist. So, there we have a long, long way to go, before healing can really happen."

Raymond Flynn is a former Boston mayor, who also served as the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. He told CBS television that the church must heed the call of lay Catholics for reform and accountability. "And while we are moving forward with the victims and healing, and the healing is beginning, we also [need to] have some changes and reforms in the church, so that what happened to these victims, these innocent victims, will never again happen to any other young person," he said. "So, the church has a lot of reforms that it has to make, as well."

Church officials have taken some action in the wake of the sex abuse scandal. More than 300 U.S. priests have either resigned or been removed from duty this year because of sexual abuse allegations.