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Spotlight Report

Cardinal says he lacked the facts on abuse charges

By Thomas Farragher and Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 11/20/2002


With Cardinal Bernard Law's deposition playing, Rodney Ford (left), a parent of an alleged victim of priest abuse, spoke with attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr. yesterday. (Globe Staff Photo / John Blanding)

 Text
Complete transcripts of the Law depositions released November 19
Transcript 1: August 13, 2002
Transcript 2: August 14, 2002
Transcript 3: October 11, 2002
Transcript 4: October 16, 2002

Excerpts
Highlights from the depositions


Earlier deposition
Cardinal Law also was deposed in June in the Shanley case
Complete transcript

 Related stories
Shanley was allowed to mediate

Even as he struggled to recall instances when he protected children from sexually abusive clergy in his early days in Boston, Cardinal Bernard F. Law insisted, in pretrial testimony released yesterday, that he would have been more aggressive if he had known more about predator priests.

In particular, the cardinal said he would have acted to protect victims of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley if he had learned of allegations about the priest's aberrant behavior before 1993. Instead, Law promoted a man whose alleged abuse dates to 1966 to be a pastor - a move the cardinal said he grieves.

''I can only say about that time that it is with profound regret and with deep pain, and deep sorrow, that I know of that,'' Law said.

Shanley is now awaiting trial on child rape charges.

Law, throughout the deposition, taken over four days in August and October, describes himself as a prelate coming only gradually to understand the enormity of the abuse problem.

''I was facing a major problem with those priests,'' Law said at one point, referring to some of the early abuse cases he encountered after arriving in Boston in 1984. ''I wasn't facing a major problem with the priesthood.''

Under questioning by a lawyer for alleged victims of Shanley, Law acknowledged that in several other cases he or his deputies permitted other priests who had molested children to remain in parish or other ministerial work. But he described his own role as limited, with much of the decision-making delegated to deputies. He said he wasn't inclined to second-guess appointments of priests made by his predecessors, or to personally examine confidential files that could have warned him about predator priests.

Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., in combative, sometimes testy questioning, pressed the cardinal to defend his reassignment of other abusive priests to new parishes during the same period Shanley is accused of abusing young boys in Newton, including Gregory Ford, one of MacLeish's clients.

MacLeish, by underscoring the pattern of reassignments, sought to challenge Law's assertion that earlier knowledge of abuse by Shanley would have prompted decisive intervention.

MacLeish showed that Law personally knew of allegations against two priests - the Rev. Eugene O'Sullivan, who had pleaded guilty to having unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, and the Rev. Daniel Graham, who, in an interview with a church official, had admitted to sexual misconduct.

In O'Sullivan's case, MacLeish noted that Law permitted the priest to transfer to a New Jersey diocese where he worked in several parishes and had access to children.

MacLeish, in transcripts released yesterday, asked Law about that decision:

Q. He was sent down to the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., is that correct?

A. He served in the Diocese of Metuchen.

Q. Where he worked with children?

A. And where he worked evidently well.

Q. Well, whether he worked well or not, he worked with children after pleading guilty, as the Globe reports, to some act of sexual intercourse with a minor.

A. That's correct.

Law acknowledged that he had reassigned the Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham three times despite allegations of sexual abuse. The priest, accused of abusing scores of boys, ultimately ended his career at St. Brigid's Church in Lexington.

''My recollection is that Father Birmingham went there as a dying man, and there was, by that very fact, a severe restriction on him,'' Law said.

Throughout the four days of testimony, detailed in nearly 900 pages of transcripts, Law portrayed himself as a leader who relied on the guidance and judgment of subordinates.

At one point, early in his testimony, he seemed to defend the results of that approach.

''As I sit here, do I know of cases that were not dealt with adequately? No, I don't,'' Law testified. ''And if there are any, I would hope that they would now be dealt with adequately.''

Later, Law characterized his reassignment of known abusers ''an aberration rather than a rule.''

He described himself as disinclined to probe confidential files of priests because he believed that any prior concerns about clergy would have been properly dealt with by his predecessors.

''My presumption when I came here in 1984 was that persons who were in place were appropriately in place,'' the cardinal said.

But he spoke ruefully of the condition of the archdiocesan personnel records, which are now being combed by lawyers representing clients who say they were sexually abused by priests.

''I'm not confident about anything with regard to files,'' Law said.

The cardinal blamed the church's mishandlng of early sexual abuse allegations on an initial failure to put victims' needs foremost. But he said he believes he and other church leaders were sincerely trying to respond to the problem.

''I think for the time and for the knowledge, we did the best we could do,'' Law testified. ''In retrospect, as I have said, hindsight is a wonderful thing. I wish to God that what I have in place now had been in place in 1994, both with regard to a written policy and also with regard to the specific elements of that policy which were changed in January 2002.''

Law, however, conceded that obvious warning signs were missed.

For example, he said that when Shanley was accused by a mentally ill patient in 1988 of sexually aggressive behavior, Bishop Robert J. Banks, a top aide in charge of handling accused priests, should have reviewed Shanley's file. If he had, Banks might have turned up an allegation of abuse dating to 1966.

''My presumption is that the file should be looked at whenever the allegation is received, to see if there's anything in the file that would, in any way, have a bearing on judging the substance of an allegation,'' Law said.

During testimony that was left unclarified, Law implied that Shanley may be laicized, or formally stripped of his priestly status. ''I would prefer not to speak to what it is that I have or may be doing in this instance,'' the cardinal said.

In the case of the John J. Geoghan, convicted earlier this year of child molestation, Law said he tried to act responsibly. He said he personally called the director of the Institute of Living in Hartford, an in-patient treatment center, in 1989 and was assured that it was ''appropriate and safe'' for Geoghan, since defrocked and imprisoned, to be returned to parish work.

When MacLeish pressed Law on this point, asking him whether the protection of children was his paramount concern in dealing with Geoghan, the testimony grew frosty.

''I don't know how many times I've answered these questions to you,'' Law said, ''and the answer is not any different now than it was the very first, second, third, fourth, fifth time you've asked that. Yes.''

Law's attorney, J. Owen Todd, instructed him not to answer when MacLeish asked why Law placed no restrictions on Geoghan's access to children at St. Julia Church in Weston.

''This is becoming abusive,'' Todd said.

The testimony also grew tense again when Law was asked to explain his solicitous letter to Geoghan in 1994, in which he told him, ''I realize this is a difficult time for you and for those close to you.''

MacLeish asked the cardinal whether he realized the victims were having difficulties of their own.

''You know, Mr. MacLeish,'' Law said, ''I just wonder if you want to rethink that question.'' The lawyer said he did not. The cardinal said he knew of the victims' anguish but ''relied on the delegate for outreach to victims.''

At another point, Law outlined his views on the moral distinction between the abuse of a child and that of an adult.

While he expressed outrage over the allegation that a Franklin priest had sought to molest a woman on two occasions, Law said he believed that sexual assault on a minor was a ''far, far worse evil.''

''Sexual abuse of a minor has an added quality of heinousness about it, and that's why our focus is so clearly on the protection of children,'' Law said, adding: ''I find the evil of sexual abuse of a minor really qualitatively quite different and much more intense than that'' of an adult.

He called the Rev. Anthony Rebeiro's alleged conduct ''totally unacceptable behavior.'' But, he said, ''I would think that the evil of child abuse is a far, far worse evil that has to be dealt with.''

The comparison of abuse of minors and adults emerged in questioning of Law about Rebeiro.

Within days of taking over as Boston's archbishop in March 1984, Law received a letter from Gregory B. Nash alleging that his wife had been the subject of crude sexual advances by Rebeiro. As first reported in the Globe in August, Law declined Nash's request for a meeting with him and his wife on the allegation, instead responding in a letter to Nash: ''After some consultation, I find that this is something that is personal to Father Rebeiro and must be considered such.''

Law said he could not recall receiving the letter from Nash, or reading the reply he signed. He said his subordinates likely dealt with it.

In further testimony, Law said he is aware that the Rev. Jon C. Martin, the former pastor of the Middleton church where convicted child molester Christopher Reardon worked, has been accused of sexual abuse. But Law seemed surprised when the questioning suggested the victim was a minor.

Jeffrey A. Newman, MacLeish's partner who represents several victims of Reardon, said last night that he has sought information about the allegation against Martin in recent months, but that church lawyers have declined to turn over the material. Newman said he is pressing in court to secure the information.

''We've been saying all along that ... Father Martin was a very bad example,'' said Cathy Reardon, Christopher Reardon's mother, said last night.

MacLeish and other lawyers cautioned yesterday that they questioned Law before they received, in recent weeks, even more information about allegations of priest sexual abuse. The lawyers are scheduled to receive tens of thousands of pages of additional documents from the Archdiocese on Friday. And they will question Law under oath again, they said.

Rodney Ford wiped his eyes as he watched the video of Law answering questions about his handling of abuse allegations against Shanley, the priest Ford believes molested his son, Gregory.

''It's difficult to speak as a parent knowing that your son was brutally molested and it didn't have to happen,'' Ford said. ''It didn't have to happen to any of these children. But it did.''

Stephen Kurkjian, Matthew Carroll, Sacha Pfeiffer, Kathleen Burge, and Farah Stockman of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 11/20/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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