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Document: Law says family's negligence contributed to alleged sexual abuse
By Theo Emery, Associated Press, 4/29/02
BOSTON -- Cardinal Bernard F. Law's legal response to a lawsuit filed by an alleged priest sex abuse victim says in part that the family's "negligence" contributed to the abuse.
The argument from the cardinal's attorney, contained in a six-page response to the suit filed by Gregory Ford, now 24, and his parents, Rodney and Paula Ford of Newton, is a standard legal defense, but has sparked criticism because of the delicate nature of the case.
The Fords allege in their suit that Law was negligent in overseeing the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, who he knew, or should have known, was a danger to children.
Law's legal response, filed in Middlesex Superior Court earlier this month, denies each of the individual allegations against Law, and Law's personal knowledge of them.
After responding to each of the Fords' complaints, the response says: "The defendant says that the Plaintiffs were not in the exercise of due care, but rather the negligence of the Plaintiffs contributed to cause the injury or damage complained of ..."
The response also says that damages assessed against Law "should be reduced in proportion to the said negligence of the Plaintiffs," and that the lawsuit was not brought "within the time specified by" state law.
The Roman Catholic Boston archdiocese did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press on Monday.
The Fords' attorney, Roderick MacLeish, said there is "not a shred of evidence" to support the claim that Gregory Ford, allegedly abused between 1983 and 1989, or his parents could have been responsible for Shanley's behavior.
"There was no reason to include this," he said. "You tell me, or let any legal analyst explain to me ... how a 6-year-old child, and the parents of that child, could possibly be negligent unless they literally fed their child to this monster."
MacLeish said he would ask Law about the response at a scheduled June 5 deposition; he said it was unlikely that Shanley would show up for a scheduled May 2 deposition.
Gregory Ford's parents reacted angrily to Law's defense.
"They're pointing fingers is what they're doing," Paula Ford said. "It's very disturbing."
Rodney Ford called the response "a disgrace."
"They want to blame me and my wife for something that happened to my 6-year-old son," he said. "I'm ashamed to call myself a Catholic."
The language in the answer allows the archdiocese to raise a defense known as the "doctrine of contributory negligence" -- the argument that the plaintiff is responsible -- as the case progresses, said Rosanna Cavallaro, a Suffolk University law professor.
She called the language "boilerplate ... formulaic, canned responses," and said it would be unusual for an attorney not to raise every defense available, including this one. That said, it could be perceived as "a thumb in the eye" for the Fords.
"I think most people would be very unpleasantly struck by that, to hear that coming from the Cardinal," she said.
David Yas, publisher and editor-in-chief of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, said Law's response, while "surprising and disturbing to members of the public," was "hardly unusual."
"When a lawyer has to defend someone in a case like this, they have to cast a wide net of defense in order to defend their client's rights. That's exactly what happened here. It borders on disingenuous to say that anything outlandish is happening here," he said.
The cardinal's legal response involves the same lawsuit that forced the archdiocese to release about 1,600 pages of Shanley's records earlier this month.
The papers indicate that Law and his predecessor, Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros, were aware of Shanley's longtime advocacy for sex between men and boys.
Shanley, 71, whose last known address is in San Diego, has issued no public statements since the case began. His phone in San Diego had been disconnected and he could not be reached for comment.
© Copyright 2002 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing Inc.