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Spotlight Report

Deposition probes Law's role in abuse case in early '70s

Victim says Law knew of abuse case

By Michael Rezendes and Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 6/6/2002

In a downtown law firm packed with lawyers, church officials, and alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse, Cardinal Bernard F. Law yesterday acknowledged in sworn testimony that his exposure to the church's longstanding practice of shuffling priests accused of sexual misconduct from one parish to another dates to his days as a young diocesan administrator in Mississippi.

Neither the attorneys for victims of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, who questioned Law, nor church officials would discuss details of Law's five hours of testimony.

But the parents of an alleged Shanley victim who attended the deposition said during a sidewalk news conference that Law said under questioning that he was notified of accusations of sexual misconduct against a Mississippi priest, although he had little if anything to do with the priest's subsequent assignment.

One of the alleged victims, Kenneth P. Morrison, said in a telephone interview yesterday that the Mississippi priest continued to abuse him even after his father told Law that Morrison's brothers were being molested.

''[Law] put the emphasis on other people and not himself,'' said Rodney Ford, whose family has sued Law for negligent supervision in a case accusing Shanley of raping Ford's son, Gregory.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for Law, would not say whether Law responded to specific questions about the Mississippi priest. But he said Law responded readily to questions about events throughout his career, which began in 1961 when he was ordained and sent to Natchez, Miss., where he later rose to the rank of vicar general.

''The questioning began with his initial work as a priest and moved forward from there,'' Coyne said. Coyne also said that Law ''welcomed the opportunity to explain past policies and actions as well as the opportunity to explain what he did and why he did it.''

The former Mississippi priest is George L. Broussard Jr. In an interview yesterday, Kenneth P. Morrison said Broussard began sexually molesting him when he was about 5 years old, in 1969 or 1970. The alleged abuse began shortly after Morrison's family moved to Jackson, Miss., and joined St. Peter's parish, where Broussard was pastor, Morrison said. It continued until about 1974 or 1975, when Morrison said Broussard was transferred to a parish in Waveland, Miss., on the state's Gulf Coast.

In Jackson, Morrison's father became a close friend of Broussard, who was a frequent guest at the family's home and weekend home at a nearby lake. The alleged abuse took place at both houses, often when Broussard would offer to tuck him into bed at night, and in the church rectory and sacristy, Morrison said.

Broussard also abused his two older brothers, Morrison said. They could not be reached for comment.

Morrison's family was also close to Law, who was vicar general - the bishop's top deputy - at the time. Law's ties to the family were strong enough that the children referred to him as ''Uncle Bernie,'' said Morrison, 37, who now lives in Chicago.

Morrison said his father learned of the abuse when he was approached by another parishioner whose son had also allegedly been molested by Broussard. Morrison's father, who is no longer alive, reported the abuse to Law, Morrison said, although at the time his father believed that only his two older sons had been abused.

Shortly after the disclosure, Law left Jackson when he was promoted to bishop of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese in Missouri in December 1973. But Broussard remained at St. Peter's for several months, and during that time he continued to abuse Morrison at the church, although less frequently, Morrison said.

Not until he was in college did Morrison tell his father that Broussard had abused him, too. As a result, Morrison said, his father ''went to his grave believing that his greatest regret in life was that he had befriended [Broussard], and that he had handled it all improperly.''

For his part, Morrison said, the alleged abuse ''destroyed a huge piece of my life,'' and he struggled for years with depression and suicidal thoughts. He said his attorney plans to file a lawsuit next week.

''I can't say that everything bad that ever happened to me is rooted in this one thing,'' he said, ''but I can say that this is the foundation most of my psyche was based upon.''

Broussard, 67, reached at his home in Houma, La., denied Morrison's allegations and said he was shocked to hear them.

''I don't remember any of this,'' said Broussard, who said he is no longer a priest. ''I don't know if he's climbing on the bandwagon or what.'' He said no one ever made accusations of sexual misconduct against him while he was a priest.

''I'm at a loss for words and am deeply hurt,'' he said.

In a later conversation yesterday, Broussard said, ''I'm neither affirming nor denying the allegations.''

Paula Ford, Gregory's mother, said Law in his deposition yesterday frequently referred to other church officials when asked about the supervision of priests accused of sexual misconduct, adding that the cardinal offered no apology to her family or to two other alleged Shanley victims who sat in on Law's testimony.

''He absolutely did not accept any responsibility and he never apologized. I want to make that absolutely clear,'' she said.

The Globe reported earlier this year that Law, after being promoted to bishop in Springfield-Cape Girardeau, removed a priest accused of sexual misconduct from active ministry and later transferred the priest to another parish.

In that case, Law responded to a 1981 allegation of sexual abuse against the Rev. Leonard R. Chambers by sending Chambers for extended treatment, then assigning him to a new parish. In 1998, Chambers was permanently removed from duty after violating an order issued in the mid-1990s forbidding him from being alone with any child.

The cardinal's testimony in the Shanley cases is scheduled to resume tomorrow. Roderick MacLeish Jr., the attorney who deposed Law yesterday, said he will need several more days to complete the deposition.

Matt Carroll of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 6/6/2002.
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