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In testimony, Law defends McCormack's handling of Shanley complaint
By J.M. Hirsch, Associated Press, 08/13/02
CONCORD, N.H. -- Bishop John B. McCormack was right to believe the explanation of a Boston priest accused of speaking favorably about sex with children, Cardinal Bernard Law said in testimony made public Tuesday.
"There was no reason to suspect," Law testified in June during a deposition in civil lawsuits filed against the Rev. Paul Shanley. "There was no reason for him to be suspicious."
"And as I recall the response of Father McCormack, he felt that the explanation was convincing, and that what he (Shanley) had said was misunderstood," Law said responding to questions by attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr.
In April 1985 a Rochester, N.Y., woman wrote to Law complaining that Shanley in a speech had said: "When adults have sex with children, the children seduced them," and the children "are the guilty ones."
The woman, Wilma Highs, also said she had some of the comments on audiotape.
In his own deposition in the same case, McCormack said he asked Shanley about the statements, and believed the priest's explanation that Higgs had taken his comments out of context.
McCormack was Law's deputy in the Boston Archdiocese from 1984 until becoming bishop of Manchester in 1998.
Blaming poor record-keeping by the archdiocese, Law said that in 1985 McCormack didn't know about earlier allegations of abuse against Shanley. Had he known more, Law said McCormack would have acted differently.
"Father Shanley had a reputation of speaking to the necessity of dealing in a compassionate way with people who were homosexuals, and very often when someone does that it can unfortunately create a backlash," Law said.
"It's very possible that when Father McCormack read this letter, he read this letter in terms of that context, which is a very understandable context," he said.
Asked by MacLeish whether it would have been "common sense" to check Shanley's file for similar allegations, Law said he wasn't certain. He also said the church at the time lacked that sort of central file, but it would have been good to have.
The cardinal also said bishops get many letters complaining about comments priests make, and church officials would not automatically presume such allegations are true.
But he acknowledged not knowing what McCormack did to investigate Higgs' complaint, including whether he ever requested to hear what the woman claimed to have recorded on audiotape.
In a televised statement in May, McCormack said he recalled receiving Higgs' letter, but for some reason didn't "focus" on the references to sex with children. He apologized for not following up on that.
But in his June deposition, McCormack said he now recalls taking up the issue with Shanley, who said he had been talking about his work with child prostitutes, and his comments had been misunderstood.
In his testimony, McCormack said he was inclined to believe Shanley, who is jailed awaiting trial on charges he raped a boy over a six-year period in the 1980s.
"I saw Paul as a person who was an honest guy, who was always trying to help the church reach out to the alienated, the marginalized," McCormack said. "I had no reason to think that he was, when he reported to me, that he was being dishonest. In hindsight I do, but then I didn't."