The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Lawyers expect to press Law on Geoghan

Reassignment role is seen as critical

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 5/10/2002

Lawyers for alleged victims of pedophile John Geoghan are expected to continue their two-track deposition of Cardinal Bernard F. Law today, focusing on Law's role in reassigning the former priest despite reports he was a sexual predator, and probing the decision by Law's Finance Council to reject an agreement to settle 84 molestation lawsuits.

Mitchell Garabedian, the lead attorney for the 86 people who filed the suits, said he will use today's session with Law to further scrutinize last Friday's Finance Council vote ''in order to prove that the defendants acted in bad faith and breached the settlement.''

Under an agreement announced by Law on March 12, the lawsuits were to be settled with payments by the Archdiocese of Boston totaling between $15 million and $30 million.

Other lawyers said they believe Garabedian and his associate, William H. Gordon, will continue to press for details of the Finance Council vote in hopes of avoiding trial and demonstrating that the settlement is a binding contract, despite the unexpected vote by the relatively obscure council.

''If the plaintiffs can get the mediation agreement enforced, they don't have to put on a full-blown trial and can get around any problem they might have with charitable immunity limits,'' said Eric Green, a Boston University Law School professor and a mediator in the Enron bankruptcy case.

Under the state's doctrine of charitable immunity, liability claims against nonprofit institutions such as the Boston Archdiocese are limited to $20,000.

Garabedian has said the cap does not apply to the 84 lawsuits because they make claims against Law and 16 other church officials as individuals, not against the archdiocese. But some attorneys believe Law could argue that the limit should apply to him because, in supervising priests, he is acting on behalf of the church.

Neither Wilson Rogers Jr. nor J. Owen Todd, the attorneys who represented Law at Wednesday's deposition, returned phone calls seeking comment for this story.

Joanne D'Alcomo, a trial attorney who specializes in representing plaintiffs, said that she does not believe charitable immunity applies to Law and the other defendants, and that Garabedian and Gordon will use today's deposition to try to show that Law was careless, or negligent, in delegating to others the responsibility of supervising Geoghan.

D'Alcomo also said the attorneys for the alleged victims could focus on the qualifications of the doctors used by church officials to evaluate Geoghan before reassigning him to parish work.

During Wednesday's deposition, Garabedian and Gordon introduced as evidence a doctor's letter clearing Geoghan for parish work that was received by church officials shortly before Geoghan was reassigned to St. Julia's Church in Weston. Geoghan had been accused of molesting boys during his previous assignment, and would later be accused of molesting many more while working at St. Julia's.

At Wednesday's deposition, Law was not quizzed about the qualifications of the doctor who signed the letter, Robert W. Mullins. But the Globe reported in January that he is a neighbor of the Geoghan family home in West Roxbury, and a family physician without expertise in psychology or sexual disorders.

A second doctor who examined Geoghan for the church, John H. Brennan, is a psychiatrist. But he had no expertise in sexually deviant behavior when he evaluated Geoghan, and had settled a sexual molestation claim filed by one of his own patients.

''Certainly the lawyers would want to pin down the cardinal on his knowledge about the experience these doctors had in the very specialized area of individuals with sexual disorders,'' D'Alcomo said. ''No one would say that the cardinal himself was qualified to decide whether such a person posed a danger to parishioners or their children, but was he careless in relying on people who were not qualified for advice? That's a question I think the attorneys will want to raise.''

Other attorneys said they believe Garabedian and Gordon may attempt to show a pattern of negligence on the part of Law and other church officials by questioning the cardinal about his oversight of other priests who were allowed to continue working, even though church officials had received sexual abuse allegations against them.

''If they can establish that the Geoghan situation was part of a wider problem, I think they'll feel that they have a better chance of convincing a jury that officials should have done more,'' said Green, the BU professor.

In recent days, a priest and a former priest who were under Law's supervision were arrested on criminal sexual molestation charges.

Rev. Paul R. Shanley was charged with raping a Newton boy in the 1980s, when Shanley was a priest at the defunct St. John the Evangelist Church, in Newton. And former priest Ronald H. Paquin was charged with raping a Haverhill boy in the early 1990s, when he was a priest at St. John the Baptist Church in that city.

Green said attorneys for Law could contest Garabedian's right to question Law about priests other than Geoghan. ''This is a classic tug of war.'' he said. ''I suspect that possibility is one reason the judge has said she'll be available to hear objections.''

Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney, who is presiding in the 84 lawsuits, has said she will be available by telephone to consider any disputes that arise during Law's deposition.

This story ran on page A42 of the Boston Globe on 5/10/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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