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Law says past policy on accused priests inadequate
By Denise Lavoie, Associated Press, 08/13/02
BOSTON -- The letters were kept in a locked cabinet at the end of a hallway at the Boston Archdiocese chancery, and they included worried allegations that a priest was advocating sex between men and boys.
The complaints in the files of the Rev. Paul Shanley also included a 1966 allegation that he'd molested a boy and a 1985 letter from a woman who said she'd heard Shanley say kids are to blame for seducing adults.
But Cardinal Bernard Law testified he never looked at those files before promoting Shanley in 1984 to be pastor at a church in Newton, where Shanley now is accused of removing boys from catechism classes to rape them in confessionals and elsewhere during the 1980s.
More than 370 pages of transcripts and seven hours of videotapes of Law's first two days of testimony in lawsuits related to Shanley were made public Tuesday. Under oath, Law repeated the explanations for reassigning known molesters that he's given many times: that he relied on subordinates or doctors for guidance, and that church records were in disarray.
"I wish to God it were possible, as I have said on other occasions, to go back in time, but it isn't. I'm not able to go back," Law said.
Law said he had no reason to believe when he promoted Shanley that he had been abusing children. He has said he had no knowledge of allegations against Shanley until 1993, but he conceded that in 1985 he might have read the letter about Shanley's alleged comments promoting man-boy sex.
But Law said he would have taken action against Shanley -- sent him away for an evaluation -- if he had seen the damaging records.
"(C)ertainly there was information about Paul Shanley that was not readily available and it would be helpful to have been," Law said.
The files also included a reference to Shanley attending the meeting at which the National Association of Man-Boy Love was founded. Law said he would have looked into whether there was a "reasonable explanation" for Shanley being at the meeting.
Shanley, 71, who was once known for his street ministry to gay and troubled youth, has pleaded innocent and is currently in jail awaiting trial on child rape and indecent assault charges. He was indicted in June on charges he abused boys from 1979 to 1989 while he was pastor in Newton, a Boston suburb. The boys were between the ages of 6 and 15.
Law's testimony came during two days in June, when Law was questioned for four civil lawsuits that allege he and other church officials were negligent in their supervision of Shanley. That deposition resumed Tuesday and was scheduled for a fourth day Wednesday.
In addition to questions about archdiocese records, Roderick MacLeish, attorney for the alleged victims, asked Law about part of his legal defense to the lawsuits: that negligence on the part of the alleged victims contributed to their abuse.
MacLeish showed Law a photograph of Greg Ford when he was 6, the age he was when he claims Shanley began abusing him at St. Jean's parish in Newton.
"Do you now believe that your answer in which you allege that Greg Ford was somehow negligent for the acts of abuse, that that answer that was filed on your behalf should be changed?" MacLeish asked.
Law said he was unsure about the legal meaning of the language drafted by his lawyers. "But I do know that my own conviction is that a child is not responsible for the abuse that he suffers or she suffers," Law said.
Law was also asked about other priests who were accused of sexually abusing children, including the Rev. Daniel Graham. Law said he allowed Graham to return to parish work in 1988 in Quincy after Graham admitted sexually abusing a boy after assurances that he was safe to minister.
Law also acknowledged he knew that the Rev. Eugene O'Sullivan pleaded guilty to raping an altar boy shortly after Law became bishop in 1984 but approved of his assignment to Metuchen, N.J. He also said former priest John J. Geoghan was sent away for assessments in 1984 and again in 1989 after he was accused of molesting children, and that he was still allowed to return to parish work, where he allegedly went on to molest more children. More than 130 people claim they were abused by Geoghan.
Attorneys for both sides had hoped to be able to reach a settlement agreement of the Shanley lawsuits, but talks broke down and depositions resumed. Lawyers for the archdiocese said Tuesday there was no deal imminent but they were still open to discussions.
"The subject of settlement is active and being pursued in the case," said Law's attorney, J. Owen Todd.
As of the June depositions, the names of 85 priests -- including 15 deceased -- had been turned over to authorities after the archdiocese found credible claims of abuse against them.
During a break in questioning Tuesday, MacLeish refused to categorize what he found most significant in Law's testimony. He said it was all important.
"This is not about a bad day at Sunday school," he said. "People's lives were destroyed."