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Spotlight Report

Law sees abuse accusation as smear against Medeiros

Allegation made by Hanover man draws questions

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 3/26/2002

Delivering an unconditional rebuke, Cardinal Bernard Law yesterday characterized allegations that the late Cardinal Humberto Medeiros had sexually molested a Catholic Memorial High School athlete in the chancery of the archdiocese as ''character assassination.''

''Nothing in the files'' from Medeiros's assignments in Fall River, Mass., Brownsville, Texas, or Boston ''would support such an allegation,'' Law said in a prepared statement. It was released after a Houston attorney for the alleged victim held a second press conference to lodge the charge against Medeiros.

''Those who lived and worked most closely with Cardinal Medeiros throughout his years as the archbishop of Boston until his death in 1983 deny categorically the plausibility of such an allegation,'' Law's statement said.

On Sunday, at a press conference in Pawtucket, R.I., attorney Daniel J. Shea said Medeiros groped his client on an evening in about 1979 on the second floor of the chancery of the archdiocese.

But the allegation was not included in a lawsuit Shea filed Thursday on behalf of Hanover resident Garry M. Garland. A star athlete at Catholic Memorial High School in the early 1980s, Garland claims in the suit that he was sexually molested at the chancery by then-Vice Chancellor Frederick J. Ryan, after Ryan got him intoxicated at a North End restaurant and, once at the chancery, introduced him to Medeiros.

Garland did not attend the Sunday press conference, but said in a separate interview that Medeiros touched him inappropriately.

Yesterday, Shea held a second press conference, in Needham, where he repeated the charges against Medeiros and asserted his confidence in Garland's claims against both Ryan and the late cardinal.

On Sunday and again yesterday, Shea said Garland did not make the allegation against Medeiros in his lawsuit or in interviews he gave to reporters because he was too ashamed. Shea also said that he only learned of the alleged abuse by Medeiros on Sunday morning, just hours before his Rhode Island press conference. The new allegation will be added to Garland's lawsuit, Shea said.

In separate interviews, Shea and Garland gave different versions of how the alleged abuse occurred. Shea said he believes Medeiros grabbed Garland's crotch after giving him a ''full-body bear hug.'' Garland said Medeiros, after hugging him, backed away and touched him between his legs.

''When he was backing away from me, he rubbed me with the front of his hand,'' Garland said.

In his statement on Medeiros, Law said, ''My heart goes out to the family of Cardinal Medeiros. They and the Catholic Church have been deeply hurt by the reporting of this unsubstantiated allegation.''

Before learning of Law's statement, legal observers and advocates for victims of sexual abuse said yesterday that they were dismayed by the manner in which Shea aired Garland's claim against Medeiros.

Some said the omission of the alleged abuse by Medeiros from Shea and Garland's statements last week could undermine Garland's standing during settlement negotiations with the archdiocese or in arguments before a jury.

They also said Shea's tactics in making the allegation against Medeiros could discredit the claims of other victims of abuse.

''Regardless of whether it's true or not, tossing in an explosive allegation at a press conference on a moment's notice undercuts the seriousness of all such cases,'' said Joanne D'Alcomo of the law firm Schneider Reilly.

D'Alcomo also said Shea may have hurt his client's case.

''Consistency tends to buttress allegations; inconsistency tends to weaken them,'' she said.

R. Michael Cassidy, associate dean at Boston College Law School and a member of the State Ethics Commission, said he does not believe Shea, who is admitted to the bar in Massachusetts, violated any rules of professional conduct in making the allegations against Medeiros.

But Cassidy also said the fact that Shea and Garland made earlier charges of abuse that omitted the claims against Medeiros could hurt Garland in court.

''A clear line of defense for the archdiocese could well be, `If this is true why didn't you say it the first time?''' Cassidy said.

Although advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse did not question the veracity of Garland's claims, some said Shea's Sunday press conference sparked unpleasant reminders of a 1993 allegation of sexual abuse made against the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago.

The accusation was later recanted in an episode that undermined the credibility of other abuse victims. ''It left people wondering if you can really believe any of these people,'' said Phil Saviano, local director of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.

The charge against Bernardin was made in a lawsuit filed by Steven J. Cook, who later died of AIDS. Cook also alleged that he was abused more than 100 times by an instructor at St. Gregory Seminary in Cincinnati, the Rev. Ellis Harsham.

Although he dropped his accusation againt Bernardin, Cook reached a financial settlement with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Harsham later resigned from the priesthood.

Garland, in media interviews, has acknowledged a checkered past that includes drug abuse and pleading guilty to a 1984 assault charge stemming from a violent, alcohol-related melee that left a Boston College student dead.

Given what Garland says he has been through, violent acts and substance abuse should come as no surprise, Shea said.

Michael Rezendes can be reached at

This story ran on page A20 of the Boston Globe on 3/26/2002.
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