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Spotlight Report

Distress suit by Weston family targets cardinal

By Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 2/8/2002

A Weston family, in which both father and son were molested by priests, filed suit yesterday against Cardinal Bernard F. Law, charging him with ''intentional'' and ''reckless'' infliction of emotional distress for knowingly assigning the Rev. John J. Geoghan to their parish, St. Julia's.

The lawsuit is unusual in that it targets only the cardinal and asserts that his negligence led to Geoghan's 1989 sexual molestation of Christopher T. Fulchino, who was 13 at the time.

But Geoghan's alleged victim in the case is not the sole plaintiff. His parents, Thomas and Susan Fulchino, are asserting that they too have suffered grievous harm because of the cardinal's decision.

When he was 12 years old in 1960, Thomas R. Fulchino was molested by another serial pedophile, the former priest James R. Porter.

Thomas Fulchino said last night that his attorney, Roderick MacLeish Jr., has demanded that the cardinal submit to a pretrial deposition within 60 days. He said he, his wife, and Christopher plan to sit across the table from Law when he is questioned under oath.

''Cardinal Law was incredibly irresponsible,'' Susan Fulchino said. ''This is a very bright, learned man who knowingly sent this pedophile from one parish to another ... He does not deserve to wear the vestments of a cardinal.''

In an interview published by the Globe on Sunday, the Fulchinos said the abuse suffered by Christopher has devastated their family. Christopher, now 25, said he often has nightmares about the abuse and feels compelled each time to arise and take a shower to feel cleansed.

His mother said she became so depressed about the abuse, and its effects on her marriage and family, that she was hospitalized for several months about a year ago. And Thomas Fulchino said he has become even more emotionally withdrawn because of what happened.

In the lawsuit, which was filed in Middlesex Superior Court, the family charges that Christopher, among other effects of the abuse, suffers from ''night terrors, and has problems sleeping and interacting with his family.'' Also, the suit charges, his parents ''have suffered severe emotional distress as a result of Law's actions.''

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston said last night that the church's lawyers had not seen the lawsuit and therefore could not comment.

Although hundreds of victims of priest sexual abuse have filed claims against the archdiocese in the last decade, those claims are almost always directed at the priest, the archdiocese, and the priest's supervisors.

But the Fulchino lawsuit, filed by MacLeish of the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, is believed to be the first that solely targets the cardinal.

Almost all of the claims have been settled in secret before the lawsuit stage, the Globe Spotlight Team reported last week. And those settlements involved at least 75 priests, and perhaps many more. In the rare cases where claimants file lawsuits, they have been invariably settled by the archdiocese before it would have to provide internal church documents to the plaintiffs.

However, in about 90 pending lawsuits against Geoghan, the archdiocese produced thousands of pages of internal documents. More than a dozen past and present church officials - but not Law - were required to testify in pretrial depositions.

Initially, a Superior Court judge placed all those records under a confidentiality seal. But last month, after the Globe filed a motion arguing that the documents ought to unsealed, they were made public under an order issued by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney.

Among other things, the documents show that Law knew Geoghan had been removed from one parish in 1980 for molesting children. In September 1984, Law removed Geoghan from a second parish after new allegations arose, yet assigned him to St. Julia's in Weston two months later. In May 1989, fresh allegations prompted the archdiocese to place Geoghan on sick leave for six months and send him to be treated for pedophilia. But in November 1989, he was allowed to return to St. Julia's.

Christopher Fulchino was allegedly among the children Geoghan targeted after November 1989. In the interview last week and in the lawsuit, Fulchino says Geoghan invited him to the rectory during a break in a Sunday school class and molested him there.

In several settings last month, Law apologized for his actions about Geoghan, who was defrocked in 1998. In retrospect, the cardinal said, his decision to send Geoghan to the Weston parish was ''tragically incorrect.'' Law, however, has said he made the decisions in ''good faith'' after Geoghan received medical clearance to resume his duties.

This story ran on page A26 of the Boston Globe on 2/8/2002.
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