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Spotlight Report

  Cardinal Bernard Law arrives at Suffolk County Superior Court for his deposition yesterday. (Globe Staff Photo / David L. Ryan)

Law recalls little on abuse case

Says under oath he delegated Geoghan matter to other bishops

By Walter V. Robinson and Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 5/9/2002

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Instant access to Law's testimony

Full transcript of Law's deposition

Cardinal Bernard F. Law testified under oath yesterday that he cannot recall any of the critical events surrounding his 1984 decision to send pedophile priest John J. Geoghan to a Weston parish after abruptly removing him from a Dorchester parish where he had molested children.

Presented with documents that leave little doubt about his role, Law acknowledged that at the time he must have considered the issue ''an urgent matter'' and been involved in the fateful events that have now come to seriously erode his own stature and help ignite a nationwide scandal for the Roman Catholic Church.

But during nearly four hours of pretrial testimony in a closed courtoom at the Suffolk County courthouse, the cardinal said he cannot remember being told that Geoghan was a child molester or discussing what to do about him with the bishops who were Law's direct subordinates.

The cardinal also said he has no memory of a December 1984 letter from Bishop John M. D'Arcy challenging the wisdom of sending a known sexual offender to St. Julia's Church in Weston.

However, at one point, the cardinal testified that he was aware of Geoghan's history of involvement with boys as early as September 1984 because reassigning the priest meant ''necessitating a letter that would not have been necessary unless there was a problem.''

Law's testimony, which is scheduled to resume tomorrow, was closed to the press and the public. But a transcript of the testimony was made public under disclosure rules set by the court.

Law, who had been Boston's archbishop for barely six months at the time, cast himself as a chief executive who delegated, and he said he believes that the two bishops who oversaw day-to-day decision-making handled the reassignment appropriately.

In 1984, he declared, ''months after I came here as archbishop, I was relying upon those assisting me to handle this adequately, and I was relying on their discretion in terms of the medical expertise.''

Facing questions from William H. Gordon, one of the lawyers for 86 plaintiffs in civil lawsuits against Geoghan and his supervisors, the cardinal said Geoghan would not have been sent to a new parish without proper medical clearance, and he defended the move on that basis.

Q. In 1984, you knew, did you not, that it would have been wrong for a priest to have sexually molested boys, is that correct?

A. Oh, absolutely.

Q. OK. And that is something you would have tried to stop from happening?

A. That's correct.

For three hours and 50 minutes, interrupted by a 62-minute break during which lunch was brought into the courtroom, Law became the first US cardinal ever questioned under oath over issues of clergy sex abuse occurring in his own archdiocese.

Yesterday was the first of several days of deposition testimony for Law in the Geoghan case. On June 5, he is scheduled to appear for pretrial testimony about why he did not remove another priest, Rev. Paul R. Shanley, who had been accused of molesting teenagers and who had publicly advocated sex between men and boys.

Law gave his testimony under the gaze of one of those who has said he was sexually abused by Geoghan, Mark Keane. The transcript does not indicate that either man spoke to the other.

Wilson Rogers Jr., one of Law's attorneys, objected to Law being deposed at all, citing the First Amendment guaranteeing the freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.

''I have raised the First Amendment as a defense and feel the inquiry into the internal workings of the Church is inappropriate,'' said Rogers.

Law's testimony was ordered on Monday by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney, three days after the archdiocese backed out of an agreement to pay between $15 million and $30 million to the Geoghan victims.

Indeed, Gordon focused almost all of his afternoon questioning on why Law's Finance Council refused to approve the settlement, a decision Law disclosed he was uncertain was binding until hours after the council's vote.

Mitchell Garabedian, the lead attorney for the Geoghan plaintiffs, said last night that Gordon's questioning of Law about the Friday vote was intended to gather evidence to support Garabedian's plan to ask Sweeney to order the agreement enforced, despite the sentiments of what had been previously thought to be an obscure advisory panel of business people.

Despite the adversarial proceeding, there were occasional flashes of humor from Law, and poignant moments when he reflected on the damage he has suffered from public disclosures and sometimes, he said, from ''rumors'' generated by what he called a ''media frenzy.''

Under persistent questioning, Law all but expressed regret that news about the decision to abandon the settlement was released to the press before Garabedian and Gordon had any chance to alert the plaintiffs. Law acknowledged that he had been told that some of the Geoghan victims are considered suicidal.

Agreeing that it would have been better for the victims to find out from their attorneys, Law said: ''I can only say again, as I said earlier that ... this issue, this whole issue as it plays itself out, is full of moments when hindsight would have been helpful.''

The Friday communication lag, he said at another point, is ''part of what I have come to experience as an exceedingly painful, complicated mess.'' He complained about the ''difficult matter of anything being kept confidential,'' and that ''rumors have a way of taking a life of their own, and I've certainly experienced that over the last four months.''

The decision to make public the rejection of the settlement, he said, was reached because the archdiocese's ''experience has been that things which we have assumed had been confidential meetings or confidential discussions found their way into print, and very often with a spin on them which betrayed, really, the substance of what was happening.''

Before Gordon sought to pinpoint during the morning session what Law knew about Geoghan, there was one moment of levity, when Law was asked if 2101 Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton is his residential address.

''And office, that's right,'' he said. ''I live over the store.''

Six months after Law moved into the residence in March 1984, he received a heartfelt letter from a Stoughton woman, Margaret Gallant, alerting the new archbishop that Geoghan had molested seven boys in her extended family several years earlier, warning him that Geoghan had recently been seen with young boys again, and urging Law to end Geoghan's access to children.

Law marked the envelope, ''Urgent, please follow through,'' and forwarded it to his top deputy, Bishop Thomas V. Daily. Little more than a week later, Rev. James H. Lane, the pastor of St. Brendan's Church in Dorchester, where Geoghan was assigned, went to the Chancery with more evidence about Geoghan. A day later, on Sept. 18, Law wrote Geoghan a letter removing him from the parish.

Under questioning from Gordon, Law said that receiving such a letter - one alleging that a priest had sexually abused children - would be unusual.

Q. Do you recall talking to anybody about this letter about the time it came in?

A. I do not recall.

Q. Do you recall if you were troubled by the information in this letter?

A. I do not recall having seen the letter at the time.

Q. So your memory of September 1984, you were unaware that Father Geoghan had admitted to Bishop Daily to molesting boys?

A. I do not recall being informed of this by Father, by Bishop Daily, no.

Law's written reply to Gallant's letter was brief: ''The matter of your concern is being investigated and appropriate pastoral decisions will be made both for the priest and God's people.''

Because of the subject, Law testified that Daily probably drafted that reply, but he did not remember it.

Q. Did you have a conversation with Bishop Daily about Mrs. Gallant?

A. I don't recall having a conversation with Bishop Daily on this matter.

Similarly, Law said he has no recollection that Rev. Lane had brought complaints about Geoghan's behavior at St. Brendan's to the Chancery, even though an archdiocesan document shows that Law removed Geoghan a day after Lane's complaint.

Asked if anyone reported to him in 1984 that Lane relayed complaints about Geoghan, Law replied, ''No, no, no.''

After Geoghan moved to St. Julia's that November, Bishop D'Arcy protested the assignment, an unusual step for a subordinate. D'Arcy urged the new archbishop in a letter to consider reversing the decision and noted, ''Fr. Geoghan has a history of homosexual involvement with young boys.''

But despite the letter's strong language, Law said he had no recollection of receiving it or discussing Geoghan with D'Arcy. Law also said he had no idea how D'Arcy would know about Geoghan's history.

In a deposition last year, Daily, who is now bishop of the Brooklyn diocese, the nation's fifth largest see, recalled many of the events that Law could not. And in a March statement about his oversight of Geoghan, Daily declared, ''In hindsight, I profoundly regret certain decisions.''

Several times yesterday, Law said his subordinates must have taken administrative steps about Geoghan. For example, he said he has no recollection that he ever alerted Monsignor Francis S. Rossiter, St. Julia's pastor, about Geoghan's sexual abuse. And he said he does not recall ever discussing the issue with him.

''My presumption would be that those assisting me in handling these matters would have also done what was appropriate in relationship to Monsignor Rossiter,'' Law said.

In questioning Law about the settlement agreement, Gordon pointed to R. Robert Popeo, a prominent Boston lawyer who has been advising Law, as having been an impediment to the settlement.

Did Law authorize Popeo to come to one of the negotiating sessions and warn Garabedian that unless he stopped talking to reporters, the agreement would be in jeopardy? Gordon asked. ''No,'' Law replied. ''That certainly wasn't told with my authorization.''

Q. Did anyone ever convey to you that Mr. Popeo's appearance caused a great deal of difficulty in putting the agreement together?

A. I have a vague recollection of having heard something to that effect.

Popeo could not be reached for comment.

Walter Robinson can be reached at Matt Carroll, Sacha Pfeiffer, Stephen Kurkjian and Kevin Cullen of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 5/9/2002.
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