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Spotlight Report

Excerpts of Law testimony over two days

Talk of 'the social implications of a sin'

By Globe Staff, 8/14/2002

The following excerpts were taken from a two-day deposition of Cardinal Bernard F. Law by Boston lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr., beginning June 5 and completed June 7. The deposition was taken in connection with civil lawsuits filed against Law by three alleged victims of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley.

Read the complete text of Law's deposition on the Paul Shanley case from June 5 and June 7, 2002

Read excerpts of the testimony

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On an assertion by Law and his attorneys, in a legal response to charges that Shanley began molesting a Newton boy when he was 6 years old, that negligence by the boy and his parents contributed to the alleged abuse:

Q. Are you aware of any set of facts that could conceivably support the argument that a 6-year-old child could in any way be responsible for his abuse by a Roman Catholic priest?A. I was being represented in this document by counsel. I did not enter into the formulation of that response, and so I haven't a basis upon which to engage in a response on this. If you're asking me personally if a 6-year-old child could have contributed negligence in a case like this, I would say the answer to that is clearly no.

Q. What about the parents, Cardinal Law? Can you in any way conceive of a set of facts that would support the assertion that the parents of a 6-year-old child could somehow be negligent with respect to the sexual abuse of their child by a Roman Catholic priest?

A. Mr. MacLeish, I can answer that theoretically. I cannot answer that with specificity to the parents of this child because I have no facts concerning the parents of this child.

Q. Mm-hmm.

A. But theoretically, I would suppose that one could presume that if parents were to put their child in the position of jeopardy for someone whom they suspected to be a risk, there would be some degree of negligence there. But I say that's a theoretical response. It in no way moves to the victim himself or herself, and it no way mitigates the responsibility of the person who would have committed the abuse. But could there be contributory negligence on the part of those who have supervision? I presume that, theoretically, that could be the case. But, again, I respond that under the terms of the specific case before us, I have no knowledge whatsoever of contributory negligence.

On the Boston archdiocese's past and present policies on whether to notify parishioners of abuse allegations:

Q. In situations, Cardinal Law, where there are either credible or admitted allegations by a Roman Catholic priest that he has engaged in the sexual molestation of children and there is then a reassignment of that priest to another parish, do you believe that the parishioners of that parish have the right to know that the person who is now their pastor or working in the church has credible allegations or even a conviction against him of child molestation?

A. It's a very general question, and if you will bear with me ...

Q. Sure.

A. ... to give what I think is a general answer. As you know, we currently report every case of abuse, credible case of abuse to public authorities. And we also, as you will note, and has been reported in the newspapers, go to the parishes in order to address the situation to the affected parish. This represents a development in our 1993 policy. And you're aware of that policy, I know. In 1993 we formulated a written policy which was based upon our previous experience and based upon consultation. In that '93 policy we did not go - the archdiocese did not report, and that decision was taken because of the conviction that it was more appropriate that the victim or parent of the victim, in appropriate cases, would make that decision; and had we presented ourselves on that policy as going to report to public authority these cases immediately, we felt that we would inhibit some victims from coming forward. The reason for that reflects a - the way in which these cases were handled. These cases tended to be handled with a desire on the part of the victim for confidentiality ...

That was the culture for handling those cases. I have said, and our policy demonstrates presently, that that culture was wrong and that it's essential to deal with the parish. In our efforts now, we do that. We have people going to the parish immediately after having received an allegation, immediately after having put someone on administrative leave, even as we consider further the allegation, which is also presumably being studied by public authorities, and I think that's the appropriate way and the right way to go. That's 2002.

In 1993, our written policy stands as it is, and we have learned in this area. I presume all of us have a lot more to learn as time goes on, and I'm grateful to God that we're at the point now where we are. I think it's the good place to be. I wish to God it were possible, as I have said on other occasions, to go back in time, but it isn't. I'm not able to go back in time. I think that it is essential that - if the primary focus is the protection of children, which I think it must be, I think it is essential that parishes where priests have been guilty of sexual abuse, or where there have been credible allegations concerning sexual abuse of minors, I think it's essential that that information be shared with the parish.

On Law's statement that he often relied on recommendations of subordinates in deciding whether to reassign abusive priests:

Q. Now, Cardinal Law, you were the person you are the person within the archdiocese, and you have been since 1984, to make decisions on assignments or reassignments of priests. You're the ultimate authority; is that correct?

I am the ultimate authority; that is correct.

Q. And sometimes you acted on the recommendations of others when it came to matters involving sexual misconduct by a priest; is that correct?

Always on those cases I relied on the judgment of others working directly with the case.

Q. You relied on the judgment of others, but you also were the person who had the ultimate responsibility. Would you agree with that?

That is correct.

On Law's decision to promote the Rev. Daniel Graham to vicar after he had admitted to molesting a child:

Q. But you would agree with me made the final decision, based upon the votes of the other pastors in the area, to promote an admitted child molester, Father Daniel Graham. Is that not accurate, Cardinal Law?

I appointed Father Graham as vicar, Mr. MacLeish, after a recommendation from my review board, which included the parent of the victim, which included a retired Superior Court chief justice, which included a psychiatrist, that this case could be considered closed; that this man did not provide - present a risk; and that his case could be considered closed. I did appoint him after that as vicar, yes.

Q. And the review board were individuals that you had appointed; is that correct?

That's correct.

Q. And you knew when you appointed, just so we're clear, when you appointed Father Graham to the vicar position, you knew that he had admitted to molesting a child, is that not correct, Cardinal Law?

Yes, that's correct.

On why Law didn't notify Graham's parishes of Graham's admission of abuse:

Q. And did the thought ever consider to you - ever come to you, Cardinal Law, in the case of Daniel Graham, that the parishioners at the parish where Daniel Graham was pastor, and at the parishes where he later had some responsibility as vicar, that would be important for the parents to know that the man who was their pastor had admitted to molesting a child? Did that thought occur to you at any time, Cardinal Law?

Mr. MacLeish, I thought I answered that question previously, but I presume that this is - you indicated to counsel a moment ago that this was not the trial, that this was a deposition.

Q. It is, in fact.

Sometimes I feel you're conducting it as though it were a trial.

Q. No. We're talking about Daniel Graham specifically, not in general.

Yes. Fine. ... I believe that I've answered that question previously, but I will be happy to answer it again. I did not, as a matter of policy, in 1984, '85, '86, '87, '88, '89, '90, '91, '92, '93, '94, '95, '96, '97, '98, '99, 2000, 2001 go to parishes on the occasion of dealing with a priest against whom an allegation of sexual abuse of a child had been made. I see now that that should have been done, but we did not do that. So it was not done in '88. I did not go to the parish.

Did I think that I should have informed the parish and then not done it? No. I simply didn't have that as part of our response to these cases. We were dealing with a case admitted from the '60s or early '70s. It had, I thought, on the basis of the review board recommendation that I acted upon, I thought that that had been dealt with adequately; that he could be -he could be placed in continued assignment without being a risk. And that was the critical question.

Was it adequate in retrospect? No, it was not adequate in retrospect. But, unfortunately, you can't go back and you can't inject into the past knowledge and insight that you have in the present.

On Law's public criticism in 1992 of media coverage of abuse allegations involving the Rev. James Porter:

Q. And you were critical of the press providing so much coverage over the story. Is that not a fair statement, Cardinal Law?

I was critical about the exclusive way in which there was focus on this story, yes.

Q. And you asked at one point for the power of God to come down on the media, and you singled out The Boston Globe for its coverage in the Porter case; is that not correct?

I have a vague recollection of being charged to have said that, and I see that you have the text there, and I'd like to refresh my memory.(Law examines document.)

Q. Do you recall - and I'm looking at the first column, Cardinal Law - deploring relentless, and that's in quotation marks, news coverage of the abuse case involving a man who has since left the priesthood? He, that means you, asserted, quote, The good and dedicated people who serve the church deserve better than what they have been getting day in and day out in the media, end of quote. Do you remember saying that?

Well, I don't remember those exact words. I remember my frustration at the level and tilt of news coverage in those case, and I think what is here in the penultimate paragraph in that first column would represent the basis of my frustration, where it says - where I am quoted as saying that the news media, quote, has covered the story irresponsibly to paint all the clergy in a negative way. And that was my concern.

Q. That it wasn't balanced?

That it wasn't balanced.

Q. And do you remember also -this is in the third column - do you remember also, Cardinal Law, asking for - to call down God's powers on our business leaders and political leaders and community leaders by all means. We call down God's power on the media, particularly the Globe. Do you remember saying those words, words like that?

I don't remember saying words like that, but, you know, calling down God's power is not calling down God's wrath.

Q. I'm not suggesting it is.

Yes. And I don't think that would be a bad thing to do, even today, to call down God's power on the news media, including even the Globe, yes. I think that would be good.

On Law's stance on clergy sex abuse when he was a priest in Mississippi:

Q. Did you believe or know that the sexual molestation of minors when you were serving in Mississippi was a crime?

You know, I have to say that in my early priesthood, the sexual molestation of minors wasn't even on my radar screen. It wasn't the issue that it is today. Even the incidence of it was not something in those days that I knew.

Q. I'm sorry. The question was in - when you were serving in Mississippi, did you know that individuals who molested children, when they did that, committed crimes?

Well, I thought I'd answered that question. The specific response to that is I wasn't - as I said, it wasn't on my radar screen. I wasn't dealing with the case of - sexual molestation wasn't something that was before me. It wasn't before us. It wasn't part of my responsibility. It didn't come up ...

Q.... So you can't state with certainty, as you sit here today, that you knew when you were in Vicksburg that the sexual molestation of a child was a crime? You can't state that with certainty?

Well, certainly, you know, if someone were to ask me is the sexual molestation of a minor a crime, my presumption is yes, of course, it's a crime. I couldn't cite you - I couldn't have cited you the law -

Q. Right.

... or anything like that. But it's certainly not something that's tolerated by society. I would have been aware of that.

Q. But again, I don't mean to press you on this, but I don't think you've answered the specific question of whether you can state that the molestation of children in the 1960s was something that you considered and knew to be a crime?

I would have considered it to be a grave evil. I would have considered it to be a sin. I would have considered it to be contrary to the common good. I could not - I can't say that I had active knowledge of the criminal code and could have addressed it in those terms.

Q. I'm not asking you a specific section of the code. That would not be an appropriate question. In any general way, were you aware of it?

In a general way, I would have presumed, yes, that it would have been a crime.

On Law's knowledge of abuse allegations made against the Rev. George Broussard in Mississippi in the 1970s:

Q. Did you become aware, as a result of contact with the Morrison family, that Father Broussard was taking children to the Morrison lake house and sexually molesting them?

I was not aware of that from knowledge that came to me from the Morrisons.

Q. Were you aware of it through some other knowledge, Cardinal Law, that George Broussard was sexually molesting children in Mississippi?

I certainly am aware of the fact that he left active ministry, and I am aware of the fact that - as I recall - I'm aware of the fact that there was inappropriate activity on his - by Father Broussard, then Father Broussard, with regard to these - some of the Morrison children.

Q. When you say ``inappropriate activity,'' inappropriate activity of a sexual nature?

I don't know what the extent of it was, so I can't - but certainly boundary violations, at least.

Q. What do you mean by ``boundary'' - I'm sorry.

Boundary violations. Certainly there was inappropriate affection shown ...

On Law's understanding of child abuse as a sin:

Q. And you knew in 1973 that child abuse, I think you said earlier, was a sin; is that correct?

Certainly it was a sin, yes.

Q. And -

But that wouldn't be dealt with by a psychiatrist.

Q. I know. It would be dealt with presumably by the individuals in charge of that priest; is that correct?

A. No, no. Well, no. When I say -if I may. When I say that sexual abuse is a sin, what I'm referring to is that it is an act against God's law, and God's command, and one deals with that as a Catholic through the sacrament of penance. The scripture says judge not that you be not judged. So that in terms of where a person stands in relationship to God, it's not for me to judge or for you to judge or anyone else to judge. It's for that person to deal with God directly on that.

However, the social implications of a sin are something that we have to deal with in the public forum. And it's at that point that -when - it's at that point that those responsible have to make certain acts.

So, for example, if a person is removed from ministry, and if a person may not go back to ministry, that isn't making a judgment as to where that person may stand in terms of his personal relationship with God. He may have repented, have forgiveness, may really be trying his best he can to live a good life, but the fact is that he may not serve, because whatever his relationship with God, there's certain social consequences to his behavior that have to be dealt with.

On how Law dealt with abuse allegations against Broussard:

Q. Well, do you have a present recollection, as you sit here today, of doing anything after you learned about the information of Father Broussard? Not speculation of what you think you did. But as you sit here today, do you have any recollection of doing anything after these allegations from Father Broussard came to your attention when you were vicar general in Jackson, Mississippi?

Well, as I sit here, I have no specific recollection of doing nothing or doing something, but I can tell you that my presumption is that I would have - either myself or through Father Broussard, whom I would have suggested do this directly himself, inform the bishop.

Q. But you just don't know whether you did? You just can't remember?

I cannot remember that I did.

Law's knowledge of the ''doctrine of broad and strict mental reservation'':

Q.... Are you familiar with the doctrine of broad and strict mental reservation?


Q. Can you describe what that doctrine is, please?

I'm not sure that I can describe it accurately. It feels like I'm in a moral theology exam here.

Q. Well, I don't want -

Why don't you ask me what - if you could put the question in another way and let me respond.

Q. Fine. Do either of those doctrines, moral or strict mental reservation, justify not telling the truth in certain situations?

A. May I respond, Mr. MacLeish, in this way, and I hope that it gets to what your question is asking: I am making neither broad nor narrow mental reservations in my response to your questions.

Q. I understand that.

A. I am trying to respond to your questions as completely and honestly as I possibly can.

Q. OK.

A. And I have no reason to make mental reservations.

Q. But do you agree with me that the doctrine of broad mental reservation does, under some circumstances - and I'm not suggesting in any way that it's happening here - does permit someone who is a priest, an ordinary, a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church, to make statements that are not technically true?

A. First of all, I would deny that that principle is a principle for priests or for bishops or for cardinals. If it's a principle - if it's a moral principle, it's applicable to anybody, but what I am saying to you is as I sit here before you under oath, I am making no mental reservations about withholding what I know to be the truth when you ask me a forthright question.

On whether Law believes he made ''errors of judgment'' in his past handling of clergy abuse cases in the Boston archdiocese.

Q.... Do you acknowledge, Cardinal Law, now, that in the period from 1984 to 1993, that you made mistakes which you now consider to be errors of judgment at the time as opposed to errors of judgment in hindsight?

A. ... (I)t's not an easy question to answer adequately. And it's certainly not an easy question to answer with a yes or with a no. We - I attempted, and those who assisted me attempted to do our level best in handling these kinds of cases in a way that would avoid risk to potential victims, and we see - I see that some of the things that we did were not adequate to that task.

Now, should I have known better on the basis of information available at that time? Should I have known better? Well, you know, the fact of the matter is I didn't know better, and I acted as best I knew how with the advice that was - upon which I was relying and which I had reason - and which I had reason to have confidence.

So to my mind, this is hindsight, hindsight. I have an accumulated insight in this problem now which I didn't have in 1984. The number of cases that I had dealt with myself personally before that date was rather limited, and the general understanding of this case - of this problem at that time was quite distinct than where it is today.

On whether Law read a 1985 letter by Wilma Higgs of Rochester, N.Y., who wrote to notify him that Shanley had publicly advocated sexual relations between men and boys:

Q. OK. Cardinal, would you please take a look at the Higgs letter again, Exhibit No. 18, and you can't state with certainty whether you ever reviewed this letter in 1985 with any other person?

A. I cannot.

Q. Either way? You can't state either way?

A. I cannot ...

Q.... I'm showing you now Exhibit 19, Cardinal, and it states:

''Dear Ms. Higgs: Archbishop Law received a letter April 29, 1985. He is sorry to hear you were disturbed about the talk given by Father Paul Shanley last November regarding homosexuals and asked that I respond on his behalf.'''Do you see that?

A. I do.

Q. And that references a discussion that Father McCormack had with you about Mrs. Higgs' letter of April 29, 1995? ... And then in the next sentence it states: ''He'' - meaning you -" ''is sorry to hear''that - ''hear you were disturbed about the talk given by Father Paul Shanley last November regarding homosexuals and asked that I respond on his behalf.'' Do you see that sentence?

A. I do.

Q. Would you agree with me that a fair reading of that sentence is that you and Father McCormack had some discussion about the letter that was sent by Mrs. Higgs?

A. I would agree that that is a possible reading of the meaning here, but another meaning is that Father McCormack is acting in my name, and - the letter went to him, and in the ordinary course of handling the letter, he would have responded in this way.

Q. Well, you don't know either way; is that correct?

A. That's correct ...

Q.... All right. What we do know is that Father McCormack in this letter wrote to Mrs. Higgs and expressed your sentiments -

A. Which he would have -

Q. Excuse me. Let me just finish - expressed your sentiments about the letter that had been received from Mrs. Higgs, correct?

A. Father McCormack adequately reflected here what he knew my sentiments would be in this kind of a situation, yes.

Q. Well, he didn't say that he knew what your sentiments would be; he stated he is sorry to hear you were disturbed about the talk.

A. I understand what the letter says.

Q. That would have to involve some communication between you necessarily and Father McCormack on the subject of Mrs. Higgs' letter; is that correct?

A. Not necessarily.

Q. But possibly?

A. Possibly

Q. Let's have the next exhibit, please. I'd like to show you Exhibit No. 20, Cardinal Law. It's a letter from Father McCormack to Paul Shanley, dated June 4, 1985, and in this letter it is stated: ''Dear Paul: Recently I received a note from the Cardinal about a letter he had received from Ms. Wilma Higgs of Rochester, New York.'' Do you see that?

A. Yes.

Q. So at this time, back some 17 years ago, almost to the date 17 years ago -

A. Yes.

Q. - Father McCormack is reporting that he had received some note from you about a letter you had received from Wilma Higgs; is that correct?

That's correct.

Q. And you would agree that Father McCormack's memories of 17 years ago are a good deal more fresh than yours, mine or Father McCormack's are today?

A. Absolutely.

Q. And you see in this letter a reference to a note from you.

A. That's correct.

Q. Is that correct?

A. That's correct.

Q. Do you know where that note is?

A. I do not know.

Q. Would it be a fair reading of this letter that there was at times, at one point in time, a note that you had sent to Father McCormack about the Higgs letter?

A. That's conceivable. You know, it's conceivable. If - and seeing this letter, if I may reconstruct what I think may have happened, I would have seen the letter, perhaps written a memo saying, ''Please follow up on this. Please look into this,'' and it could have gone that way.

Q. OK. And so is that the way you think it's more probable than not that it went, having seen this letter to Father Shanley, that there was some writings or note?

A. Having seen this letter?

Q. Yes.

A. I would presume that that's the way it went. Without having seen this letter, it would have been an equally valid presumption that it would have gone without my having seen the original letter.

Q. But now that we have this Exhibit No. 20 in front of us, this letter suggests that, in fact, you did read the letter of April 29, 1985, from Mrs. Higgs and wrote something, perhaps just on the letter, to Father McCormack, which prompted him to bring this to the attention of Father Shanley. Is that a fair statement?

A. Probably not on the letter, because I think it would be shown on the copy. So it probably was a separate note, but I would presume that that's a reasonable assumption.

Q. And so now that you have that, can we agree that it's more probable than not that you did, in fact, read the Higgs letter?

A. Yes.

Deposition continues on Friday, June 7, 2002:

On Law's April 2002 statement attributing the archdiocese's mishandling of the Shanley case in part to poor record keeping:

Q. ...Now, you - if we could go to Exhibit No. 13, Your Eminence. This was your statement of April 12, 2002, some of which we covered on Wednesday. In Paragraph 2, you state: ''The case of Father Paul Shanley is particularly troubling for us. For me, personally, it has brought home with painful clarity how inadequate our recordkeeping has been.'' OK? Now, when did you first discover how inadequate your record keeping had been at the Archdiocese of Boston?

A. In the course of the last - we're in June now - in the course of the last six months.

Q. OK.

A. As we have dealt with these cases.

Q. And so would it be fair to state that, as you sit here today, you can't recall any difference in the adequacy of your record keeping between 1984 and the last several months? Would that be a fair statement?

A. Excuse me?

Q. Sure. You state you had learned about the inadequacy of the record keeping at the archdiocese within the last several months; is that correct?

A. That's correct.

Q. Are you aware of anything that occurred between 1984 with respect to the adequacy of the record keeping and the present time? Do you understand my question?

A. Yes. Well, I was unaware of the inadequacy of our record keeping until this past six months when we have had occasion again and again and again to retrieve a whole host of records. And as difficult and frustrating as that has been, I'm frankly very grateful for the fact that that inadequacy has come to light and that we are addressing it ...

... A continual institutional memory concerning allegations and cases of abuse of children was lacking; and I think that expresses the frustration I have had and it's that we have tried to address in terms of ensuring that, moving forward, that institutional memory is going to be readily accessible to anyone having to deal with this kind of an issue in the future, and that means having the pertinent information carried forward in a way that the full case is there for somebody to see.

On why Law didn't thoroughly review Shanley's personnel files before promoting him to pastor in Newton:

Q.... Now, the question, Cardinal Law, is that given that you, as the archbishop of Boston, are running 400 parishes and 200 schools and given that you have just promoted, at the time this letter is sent to you, Paul Shanley to pastor of a church in Newton, Massachusetts, where individuals such as Greg Ford and other children were attending CCD classes, wouldn't it have just been common sense if Paul Shanley were to deny that he ever said such a thing as is quoted in Exhibit 18 about adults having sex with children, given the responsibilities that you had as archbishop towards the children being served in your programs, would it not have been just common sense, when you've got a dispute between Mrs. Higgs and Paul Shanley, to go back and spend a couple of hours and look at the records? Wouldn't it have been common sense?

A. I'm - you know, as difficult as it may be for you to appreciate this, I'm not so certain, going back in time, that that would have been the common sense thing to do.

Q. OK. You understand -

A. There -

Q. I'm sorry.

A. You must realize that this man, in 1985, was not under suspicion or I would not have appointed him to pastor. My predecessor would not have appointed him as the admin - the administrator would not have appointed him as administrator in the interim period. He was not under suspicion.

This is a very volatile situation. The general context here is the context of homosexuality. This issue can easily lead to a misunderstanding of what is being said when one differentiates between a lifestyle and an orientation.

The church's teaching, as you well know, is criticized by many people on this issue, because we do not believe that a homosexual lifestyle is a morally acceptable behavior, even though we don't place a moral connotation on an orientation, that one can't act out of the orientation.

Father Shanley had a reputation of speaking to the necessity of dealing in a compassionate way with people who were homosexuals, and very often when someone does that, it can, unfortunately, create a backlash, and it's very possible that when Father McCormack read this letter, he read this letter in terms of that context, which is a very understandable context, and -

Q. I'm really not referring to that portion of it, Cardinal Law.

A. I understand that, Mr. MacLeish, but I think that that context does set a certain - that paragraph does set a context for the letter. It sets a context for how possibly someone is hearing what is being said.

Q. I'm not referring to the sections where Paul Shanley is alleged by Mrs. Higgs to have made remarks about homosexuality. You and I agree that adults having sex with children and that children later regretting having caused someone to go to prison knowing that they are the guilty ones, that doesn't have anything to do with homosexuality, Cardinal Law?

A. Absolutely not.

Q. So my question is, would there have been any reason, in 1985, why someone in the archdiocese who had access to Paul Shanley's files could not have gone and looked at them? Would there have been a reason, a policy, why they couldn't have looked at those records?

A. Your question is different now, Mr. MacLeish, and my answer to that is no. There is no reason why one could not have done that ...

This story ran on page A30 of the Boston Globe on 8/14/2002.
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