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Law vows to solve priest abuse problem
By Jay Lindsay, Associated Press, 06/07/02
BOSTON -- Cardinal Bernard Law vowed the Roman Catholic church would solve the problem of sexual abuse by priests on Friday, the day a special church panel released detailed recommendations to better protect children.
''We are determined to get ahead of this problem,'' Law told members of the Commission for the Protection of Children, a panel he appointed in the wake of the sex abuse scandal that erupted in January.
The commission was scheduled to release a final draft of recommendations Friday, but Law said the group hadn't settled on the language, though it agreed in principle.
''This is so reassuring, I know, to many in the church, and I hope in the wider society,'' Law said.
The proposal will also be posted on the Internet and sent to prosecutors, children's advocates and victims of sexual abuse for review. Changes will be discussed at the commission's July 13 meeting. Chairwoman Maureen S. Bateman said a final document could be done by Sept. 6.
The panel's suggestions call for immediate removal of offenders from ministry if a ''credible'' allegation of abuse is reported. They also stress prompt reporting of sexual misconduct to church and civil authorities, better screening of clergy and church workers, and establishment of lay groups to monitor and enforce church policy.
An outline of the proposal was released last month. New suggestions released Friday also include:
A code of conduct specifying what constitutes inappropriate physical contact between clergy and children.
Disclosure of priests' records to potential employers or volunteer agencies.
Law will take the draft recommendations to the American bishops conference in Dallas next week, where Bateman said he will advocate for broader adoption of its principles.
The panel's proposal differs from one offered by the bishops in promoting ''zero tolerance'' and barring confidential settlements of civil suits.
''When you have secrecy it creates an atmosphere of suspicion,'' Bateman said. ''That's what we want to avoid.''
Under the bishops' plan, clergy who molest a child once could continue serving a parish under certain conditions, such agreeing to counseling or public disclosure of their misconduct.
Law formed the task force after court documents showed church leaders knew of allegations of abuse by former Rev. John Geoghan, but still transferred him from parish to parish.
Geoghan, who was sentenced to nine to 10 years in prison for abusing a 10-year-old boy, has been accused of molesting more than 130 children.
The task force, made up of educators, physicians, business leaders and children's advocates, was charged with examining the archdiocese's current policies on handling abuse.
The commission's meeting Friday came as Law completed a second day of deposition in the case of retired priest Paul R. Shanley, a central figure in the church sex abuse scandal.
Law answered questions for three hours from lawyers for Gregory Ford, who claims Shanley repeatedly raped him when he was a child.
Ford's lawyer, Eric MacLeish, said he questioned Law about three alleged victims of Shanley. Ford's lawsuit claims Law failed to properly oversee priests in the Boston Archdiocese.
Ford's mother, Paula, who sat across the table from Law during the deposition, said Law continued to blame poor record-keeping to explain why Shanley was reassigned even after the archdiocese received abuse allegations about him.
''The records were there,'' she said. ''They chose not to read them.''
The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said Law was ''evenhanded'' in his responses and accepted responsibility.
''When asked, he did respond by saying ultimately I was the one who made the decision,'' Coyne said.
Shanley became a central figure in the ongoing scandal when church documents showed he had publicly advocated sexual relationships between men and boys. He is accused of raping a boy over a six-year period in the 1980s.
Also on Friday, the archdiocese appealed a Superior Court judge's order to immediately release transcripts of the depositions of both Law and New Hampshire Bishop John McCormack.
After a hearing, Appeals Court Judge Gordon L. Doerfer said transcripts would not be released before early next week. The judge continued the hearing without making a ruling. He gave attorneys until noon Monday to file written arguments.
The archdiocese is challenging a decision by Middlesex Superior Court Judge Raymond Brassard, who ruled that transcripts and a video of the depositions should be made available as soon as they were reviewed by a stenographer and certified by the court clerk.
Church attorneys argued at Friday's hearing that the depositions should not be released before they have a chance to review them.
Law was questioned under oath for several hours Wednesday and for three hours Friday. McCormack was deposed Monday in New Hampshire.