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Spotlight Report

Law says council 'refused' request

Asserts his backing of Geoghan accord

By Michael S. Rosenwald and Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 5/6/2002

 Related material
Timeline of the failed settlement
Members of the Finance Council

As Cardinal Bernard F. Law kicked off his annual fund-raising appeal yesterday by asking for "heroic generousness," he also tried to distance himself from the Archdiocese of Boston's recent rejection of a multimillion-dollar settlement with victims of clergy sexual abuse.

In his first comments since Friday's dismissal of a $15 million to $30 million agreement with 86 victims of defrocked priest John Geoghan, Law told parishioners at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross that his handpicked Finance Council "refused my request" to authorize the settlement.

Law's explanation comes at a crucial time for the church. Amid calls for his resignation, most parishes in the archdiocese are embarking on the Cardinal's Appeal to raise $16 million for church programs and services.

Law said the need for donations, which he vowed not to use for legal settlements, is "extraordinarily great," adding that it is "no secret that the continuing crisis will also very likely have a [negative] effect" on fund-raising.

He made his brief appeal toward the end of a sparsely attended Mass that he began by explaining the archdiocese's decision to renege on the settlement agreement.

Because of the size of the Geoghan settlement, coupled with recent revelations of at least 150 new alleged victims of clergy abuse, Law said archdiocese payments would amount to "an extraordinary act of administration" that under canon code required the Finance Council's approval. He said he learned of the requirement on Friday.

He said the Finance Council's concern that the settlement would not allow the church to adequately serve other victims in the future was "laudable."

But even as the cardinal sought to distance himself from the decision, Mitchell Garabedian, the attorney for the Geoghan victims, suggested yesterday that Friday's action was a well-rehearsed ploy by the church to walk away from the settlement.

Garabedian recalled a conference call in March after his tentative settlement agreement with Wilson Rogers Jr., Law's lawyer; Paul A. Finn, the mediator whose firm was to have set the dollar amounts for the settlements; and David W. Smith, the archdiocesan chancellor.

According to Garabedian, Smith said, "We have the money. We'll fund the settlement. We're going to do the deal."

Not once, Garabedian said, did Smith or Rogers ever mention that there was any approval needed by the Finance Council.

Garabedian noted that there were many skeptics, including some at the archdiocese, who thought that he would never be able to get all 86 victims to sign the agreement. Without those signatures, the deal would have collapsed.

It was only when he told Rogers that all his clients had signed, Garabedian said, that he was first told that the Finance Council would play a role. But Rogers, he said, "told me, `Don't worry. It's only advisory."'

"These people are just liars," Garabedian said.

The archdiocese's intention to honor the agreement was also signaled in front of Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney. At a status hearing on April 12, Wilson Rogers III told Sweeney that his father was away, collecting signatures for the agreement from the far-flung bishops who were defendants in the cases from their days as top lieutenants in the archdiocese.

Two weeks later, however, the Globe learned that neither Law nor any of the other 16 church defendants had signed the agreement. Rogers Jr., according to Garabedian, also told him the archdiocese had a $10 million line of credit from Fleet Bank to cover the settlements.

"The first time I ever heard that the Finance Council had more than an advisory role was when I received a call Friday from Rogers telling me the deal had been voted down -- after they had rereleased a press release," Garabedian said.

Donna Morrissey, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, could not be reached to comment on Garabedian's claims yesterday.

Without apologizing for reneging on the settlement, Law said he understood "the disappointment, the anger, and even the sense of fresh betrayal" probably felt by Geoghan's 86 victims and their families.

The success of the Cardinal's Appeal won't be known for several weeks, at minimum, because parishioners generally mail in their contributions. Also, not all of the archdiocese's parishes began the campaign yesterday. An unknown number have been allowed to delay it six months while they work on the long-planned capital campaign, according to the Rev. Christopher Coyne, another spokesman for the archdiocese.

After Mass yesterday, as Law greeted parishioners under the watchful eyes of several bodyguards, an elderly man approached him and criticized his handling of the scandal, demanding his resignation.

"You're a burden to the pope," the man said. "You're a burden to us."

"I ask you to pray for me," Law said, drawing the man face-to-face with him.

Several undercover police officers moved in, and along with the Rev. John J. Connolly, they gently tried to move the man toward the exit. "Get your hands off me," the man said. "Tell these men to get their hands off of me."

The man did not budge.

"You are not the only voice," Law said. "I need to listen to all voices."

"I pray that you have the humility and courage to do what 75 percent of the people think you should do," the man said. "The only way the church can heal is if you move on."

The man refused several requests by reporters for his name.

Outside the cathedral, the two dozen or so protesters who have been a fixture in recent weeks retooled their signs to reflect the recent settlement decision. One said, "Sell the Chancery, pay the victims." Another said, "Duped again."

Yesterday also marked a heightened tone of nastiness, and perhaps frustration, toward Law and those wishing to pray with him inside the cathedral. One man held a sign saying, "Bernie, you're going to hell."

Bryan Horgan got a good dose of the heightened tone. On his way into the cathedral, Horgan became involved in a shouting match with several protesters, one of whom produced handcuffs and asked whether he would be willing to make a citizen's arrest of Law.

When Horgan tried to quietly discuss his support for the church with reporters, another woman stood nearby crying. A protester comforted her by saying that Horgan "probably treats his children like those people in this church do."

"He's living in a shell just like Cardinal Law," the man added.

Horgan was not deterred. He will donate to the cardinal's campaign, no questions asked. The church's mission, he said, should not suffer despite the actions of some renegade priests.

"I don't have any problems coming here," he said. "People need to see people like me."

Horgan then went inside to pray.

When Mass ended a couple of hours later, the protesters fanned out to several cathedral exits, hoping that Law would see them. Upon seeing him leave, one man holding a sign chased his car down the street.

Michael S. Rosenwald can be reached by e-mail at mrosenwald@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 5/6/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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