The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Judge orders questioning of Law

Testimony set for tomorrow in Geoghan case

By Michael S. Rosenwald, Globe Staff, 5/7/2002

Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the nation's senior Roman Catholic prelate and the man at the heart of the clergy sex abuse scandal, will be questioned under oath tomorrow on orders from a Suffolk Superior Court judge concerned Law might leave for Rome if the proceeding were further delayed.

Judge Constance M. Sweeney announced her decision yesterday at an emergency hearing sought by an attorney for 86 alleged victims of defrocked priest and convicted child molester John J. Geoghan - victims whose multimillion dollar settlement with the Archdiocese of Boston was rejected last Friday.

Sweeney scheduled the deposition sooner even than the date sought by Mitchell Garabedian, the alleged victims' attorney, because she wondered whether Law might leave the country.

''His choice of whether he is available for deposition is not entirely belonging to him,'' Sweeney said. ''If the pope tells him to go to Rome, he goes.''

The deposing of a high-ranking US Catholic church official is a rare occurrence. In 1996, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles was deposed in a Calfifornia sexual abuse lawsuit stemming from his tenure as a bishop in Stockton, Calif.

Law is scheduled to begin answering questions at 9 a.m. tomorrow in a Suffolk Superior courtroom in Boston. Sweeney scheduled the deposition there so she could quickly be available to rule on what she believes will be numerous objections.

She also ordered that the deposition be videotaped to serve as testimony in a trial if Law were not available. The tape will be made public only at a trial, she said, adding that a typed transcript

would then become part of the public record, as is customary.

Last night, Garabedian said it will take him four to five days to question Law, although he said he does not expect more than one day of testimony to take place this week.

Law's attorney, Wilson Rogers Jr., who refused to answer questions after Sweeney's ruling, could appeal her decision to the state Court of Appeals.

Sweeney also raised doubts about whether Law and the archdiocese had the legal right not to honor the settlment, estimated to be between $15 million and $30 million.

Harvard Law School professor Laurence H. Tribe, calling Sweeney's decision ''a blow to [Law's] credibility,'' said she clearly was worried about Law's availability if she delayed the deposition.

The ruling, he added, ''indicates that she felt that the cardinal might be motivated by his own, and not the public's, best interest.''

Garabedian requested that Law be deposed May 14. In ordering that the questioning be held tomorrow, Sweeney rejected Rogers's request that he should be given the standard seven-day notice of a deposition.

Instead, she seemed sympathetic to Garabedian's concern that Law might leave the country before being deposed, thereby denying the 86 people he represents a chance to learn more about Law's handling of Geoghan.

Sweeney raised the possibility that Law could be made an ambassador by Pope John Paul II, prehaps granting him diplomatic immunity. ''There is no reason to delay this any longer,'' she said.

Law is also scheduled to be deposed June 5 in lawsuits pertaining to the Rev. Paul Shanley.

Sweeney, noting that Geoghan's alleged victims had ''the rug pulled out from under them,'' also raised serious concern about the settlement between the archdiocese and Geoghan's victims that the Archdiocesan Finance Council voted to reject.

Law said Sunday that he was prevented from moving forward with the settlement because church law requires him to get approval from the Finance Council. Garabedian said he was never told the council would have approval power.

Sweeney will hold a hearing within three weeks to determine whether the agreement was binding, casting doubt on whether canon law applied in this case. After Rogers Jr. admitted that he had never actually seen the canon code, she ordered him to provide it to her this morning.

Law had been scheduled to be deposed April 3, but she agreed to cancel it after both parties assured her a settlement was imminent. In a court filing yesterday, Garabedian maintained that Law only agreed to a settlement to delay his deposition.

''Shuffle and cover, that's their motto,'' Garabedian said in an interview last night.

Donna M. Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese, said last night that she would have no comment on Sweeney's ruling.

Garabedian told Sweeney that he and his clients were blindsided by Law's decision to scuttle the settlement on Friday, saying that he had been told several times that the deal was done, the settlement money was secured, and that the Finance Council's say on the matter was strictly ''advisory.''

In a lengthy and impassioned plea to Sweeney, Garabedian also pointed out that at an April 12 status hearing Wilson Rogers 3d said his father was not attending because he was out of state collecting signatures for the settlement.

But after being questioned by Sweeney yesterday, Rogers 3d said Garabedian was misrepresenting his comments. He told Sweeney that he had actually said his father was trying to secure agreements, not obtain signatures.

Then, in a moment that seemed to surprise many in the courtroom, Rogers Jr. stood up and told Sweeney that on April 12 he had actually been in New York on personal business, apparently not at work on the Geoghan lawsuit.

Sweeney declined Garabedian's request that Law post a $30 million bond if he leaves the country, saying such an extraordinary measure was not warranted in this case.

She also surprised attorneys for both parties by referring to laws dating to 1897 in trying to determine whether canon law granted business approval powers to the Finance Council.

Sweeney said her initial interpretation of the laws, without having seen the church canon, seemed to indicate that within an archdiocese business is conducted with an archbishop, not a Finance Council.

Garabedian said he believes he can persuade the judge to enforce the settlement.

Law's attorneys and the archdiocesan chancellor, David W. Smith, ''both represented that they had the power to bind the archdiocese to the settlement contract,'' Garabedian said.

The fact that the Finance Council voted it down, he said, is a breach of contract. Council members said they rejected the settlement because they were concerned that the archdiocese would be left with few resources to make settlements to other victims of clergy sexual abuse.

The Globe has reported that about 500 alleged victims have retained legal counsel since the scandal erupted in January.

Michael S. Rosenwald can be reached at Globe Staff reporters Walter V. Robinson, Michael Rezendes, Matt Carroll and Stephen Kurkjian contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 5/7/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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