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Spotlight Report

Tapes show Law keeping his composure

By Mark Jurkowitz, Globe Staff, 8/14/2002

Those expecting fireworks may have been disappointed as Cardinal Bernard F. Law's videotaped deposition made for long stretches of droning daytime television yesterday. But the spectacle of the head of the Boston Archdiocese being systematically grilled about sexually abusive priests under his charge was, nonetheless, inherently dramatic.

 Documents
Read the complete text of Law's deposition on the Paul Shanley case from June 5 and June 7, 2002

Read excerpts of the testimony

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The tapes of Law's June deposition in civil lawsuits stemming from charges against the Rev. Paul Shanley were aired for about five hours yesterday on the New England Cable News network; other stations relied on highlights to lead their regular newscasts.

The most heated engagement occurred when Law's laywer, J. Owen Todd, interrupted questions to the cardinal by lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr. by snapping that ''these sermons and preaching to us [are] unnecessary.''

''This is a very serious case, Mr. Todd,'' countered MacLeish.

The cardinal, the only participant in the deposition who appeared on camera, remained calm. Even during his questioning, he spoke carefully and deliberately, and on several occasions offered his regret for the church's handling of the sexual abuse cases.

Occasionally, Law displayed a flash of impatience, and at least once he wearily rubbed his hands over his face. At one point he appeared to visibly sag, after MacLeish confronted him with document after document from church files that described Shanley's alleged abuses - documents that were not consulted by Law before he made Shanley pastor of a Newton church. Law insisted that he ''was not aware of those materials,'' but acknowledged that ''I would agree that the record keeping and institutional memory has to be improved.''

The early reviews of Law's deposition testimony were not particularly flattering. During yesterday's 5 p.m. newscast, WBZ-TV's (Channel 4) Joe Bergantino called the cardinal ''defensive, contrite, most of all careful, and at times contradictory,'' while Victoria Block of WHDH-TV (Channel 7) said his ''body language ... is very telling ... sometimes not even looking anyone in the eye.''

During its noon newscast, reporter Amalia Barreda of WCVB-TV (Channel 5) described Law as ''subdued.''

In response to MacLeish's question whether parishioners had ''a right to know'' about priests facing allegations of sexual abuse, Law said ''these cases tended to be handled with a desire on the part of the victim for confidentiality ... That was the culture for handling those cases ... That culture was wrong.''

But much of the grinding interrogation ended up with Law parrying MacLeish's efforts to lay the blame at his doorstep. When asked whether he was responsible for returning the Rev. Daniel Graham to his parish after he admitted molesting a child, Law insisted he acted on the recommendations of others.

When MacLeish labeled Law as ''the ultimate authority,'' the cardinal said, ''Always, on those cases, I relied on the judgment of others.''

One resonant moment occurred after a long wrangle over whether Law had read a letter in 1985 that raised concerns about Shanley. With Law holding to his testimony that he did ''not believe he read the letter,'' and MacLeish trying to get him to acknowledge that he may have seen the letter, Law noted that the issue is ''what does `believe' mean.''

The cardinal's words conjured up for some viewers' memories of another case of televised testimony. In 1998 President Clinton famously deflected an accusation, saying ''it depends on what the meaning of the word `is' is.''

Before Clinton's videotaped testimony about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky was made public, rumors were rampant that the president had lost his cool. But for all Clinton's painful semantics, he proved calm and controlled in his testimony.

Throughout Law's televised deposition yesterday, he too kept his composure in a pressure-cooker situation.

This story ran on page A29 of the Boston Globe on 8/14/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing LLC.


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