The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Testimony turns to public statements

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 8/7/2002

The two people who became the public faces of the Archdiocese of Boston during the priest abuse scandal that has engulfed Cardinal Bernard F. Law were questioned yesterday about the words they used to describe the $15 million to $30 million settlement agreement with the alleged victims of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan in the days after it was announced.

Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a frequent spokesman for Law, was questioned about an April article in the Globe reporting that at least three members of Law's finance council were expected to urge Law to abandon the settlement agreement. The article quoted Coyne as saying that Law still intended to sign the agreement.

''And that was your understanding?'' asked William H. Gordon, a lawyer for the alleged victims.

''Yes, it was,'' Coyne said.

Law's spokeswoman, Donna M. Morrissey, was questioned on a statement she released in March to announce the settlement agreement. Gordon asked her to read a sentence from that release.

''This is an agreement in principle, and final language is still being worked out,'' she read. The statement would have been approved by someone from the cardinal's residence and by attorneys for the archdiocese before it was released, she testified.

Morrissey had used the same language in an e-mail to a local ABC correspondent the day after the settlement agreement was negotiated, she testified. But under questioning by Ian Crawford, one of Law's lawyers, she elaborated on her view of the agreement.

''My understanding was that it was contingent on final language being worked out between the attorneys,'' she said. ''Once that was done, it had to be signed by all plaintiffs and defendants. And if even one person did not sign it, it wouldn't be finalized.''

Later in the day, lawyers for 86 alleged victims of Geoghan rested their case. This morning, lawyers for Law and 15 other defendants will put several witnesses on the stand. Closing arguments will likely take place this afternoon.

Lawyers for the defendants have described the negotiated agreement as the first, tentative step toward a final settlement, once the money was secured and everyone had signed on.

But lawyers for the alleged victims have accused the archdiocese of fraud, by publicly embracing the agreement and then walking away. Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney will decide whether to enforce the agreement.

Also yesterday, Sweeney agreed that Law's depositions in lawsuits filed by people who allege they were abused by retired priest Paul Shanley could be postponed until next Tuesday.

In an affidavit filed with his motion to postpone the deposition, Law said he had a prior commitment at a Knights of Columbus meeting in Los Angeles, beginning yesterday. And on his return trip, he said, he was stopping in Missouri for an event.

Also next Tuesday, transcripts of Law's depositions in the Shanley case will be made public, according to Sweeney's ruling.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at

This story ran on page A4 of the Boston Globe on 8/7/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

For complete coverage of the priest abuse scandal, go to