The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Law notes regret on wording

Wishes he'd been cautious on pact

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 8/3/2002

In his first public courtroom appearance since the priest sexual abuse scandal erupted, Cardinal Bernard F. Law yesterday said he regretted not describing the settlement agreement reached with 86 alleged victims of former priest John Geoghan more cautiously.

During more than two hours of testimony in Suffolk Superior Court, Law admitted that he had not called the $15 million to $30 million settlement a ''proposed agreement'' in a widely reported statement released the day after the deal was announced in March. Yet he insisted that he viewed the agreement as the first step in a tentative accord that first had to be funded, and then signed by all parties.

But Mitchell Garabedian, representing the 86 alleged victims of Geoghan, confronted Law with a copy of the archdiocese's newspaper, The Pilot, which quoted Law's statement of March 12.

''This settlement is an important step in reaching closure for these victims who have long endured the damage done to them by John Geoghan,'' Garabedian read from Law's statement.

Garabedian also showed Law an editorial in the March 15 edition of the Pilot applauding the settlement. As archbishop, Law serves as publisher.

''Does it say, `conditional settlement' anywhere? Does it say, a `possible settlement'? Does it say, `a settlement that might be?''' Garabedian asked. ''In fact, doesn't it say, `had been settled.'?''

Law said he regretted not using the word ''proposed,'' but said the context was clear and that he knew the settlement would not be final until all 86 victims and the 16 defendants signed it.

''I saw it as a proposed settlement that would be effected with all of those signatures and it was my hope that all of those signatures would be gotten,'' Law said. ''... I see now that it would have been much better and cleaner if all of us had used the statement `proposed settlement. '''

Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney must decide whether the Archdiocese of Boston walked away from a legally binding agreement, or whether the settlement agreement reached in March and abandoned in May was something less than an enforceable contract.

Law, the nation's senior Catholic prelate, said on the witness stand that he never signed the agreement because there was no money to fund it. The archdiocese's finance council turned down the deal in early May. ''I wouldn't have had the means to make those payments,'' he said.

The cardinal said he didn't draw more attention to the contingencies he believed existed because he didn't want to ''throw cold water'' on the deal that had been announced. Law and other church officials are accused of negligence for transferring Geoghan, an accused child molester, from parish to parish.

Law also argued yesterday that his role in the lawsuits and the settlement agreement was as an individual - like the other 15 defendants, who are priests, bishops, and an archbishop - and not as the leader of the Archdiocese of Boston. He explained the difference in his two roles by saying that when he uses his personal credit card, the archdiocese is not responsible.

The legal parsing of his role could be important as Sweeney considers whether the settlement agreement was a legal contract. If Law was instead representing the archdiocese, as attorneys for Geoghan's victims argue, his public statements about the settlement agreement may make it harder for the church to prove that no binding agreement existed.

The morning began with attorney Garabedian calling Law as a witness. The cardinal, dressed in a black suit and a Roman collar, walked slowly to the front of the courtroom, nodding at Sweeney.

He raised his right hand as the clerk read the oath and asked if he promised to tell the truth. ''I do,'' he said, adding, ''So help me God.'' Law answered routine questions about his birthdate - he is 70 - and his address, noting he is a citizen of both the United States and the Vatican.

Law seemed comfortable on the stand, often looking into the television camera across the room as he spoke. Between questions, he looked down at his clasped hands. But he occasionally seemed confused, once addressing Garabedian as ''Mr. Geoghan,'' and appearing unsure about finishing an answer after he was interrupted by an objection.

Several of Geoghan's alleged victims listened as Law testifed. One, Mark Keane of Merrimack, N.H., said the church's abrupt abandonment of the settlement agreement intensified the lingering trauma for people like him.

''Now these moral leaders of this church are dragging [out] my pain, my family's pain,'' he said.

After Law left the stand, one of the archdiocese's lawyers, Wilson D. Rogers Jr., resumed his testimony from Thursday. He said that the archdiocese's finances were more precarious than Garabedian had suggested the day before in his own testimony.

About two-thirds of the alleged victims would not be covered by the archdiocese's insurance policies, Rogers said, either because the alleged abuse took place before the archdiocese had insurance, or because the insurance for that period of time had already been depleted, Rogers said.

Rogers also denied that he had said several private donors had agreed to contribute $9 million toward a settlement with alleged victims, or that the archdiocese had a $20 million line of credit, as Garabedian had testified on Thursday. Garabedian said Rogers assured him that the archdiocese had the resources to fund the settlement.

Meanwhile, Sweeney rescheduled Law's deposition in another group of priest abuse cases from Monday to Wednesday of next week. Settlement discussions among attorneys for the archdiocese and lawyers for more than 200 additional alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests, including retired priest Paul Shanley, fell apart last month.

Yesterday, Sweeney also stuck by her earlier ruling that two mediators who helped lawyers reach the Geoghan settlement agreement can be forced to testify, even as the mediators' lawyer asked an Appeals Court justice to overrule Sweeney yesterday afternoon. Justice Cynthia Cohen has not yet ruled on the motion.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report. Kathleen Burge can be reached at

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