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April 6
Church settles with four in suit

February 25, 2004
Priest was a potential witness

July 22
CEO would testify of abuse

May 8
Personal records are barred

April 8
Victim's memory is questioned

April 5
Archdiocese motion granted

February 28
Disagreement over court dates

January 28, 2003
Steps on Shanley are detailed

January 14, 2003
Former vicar admits he erred

December 12
Shanley is released on bail

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Shanley may be freed on bail

December 1
Battle over files intensifies

Earlier stories

Spotlight Report


'I really did not believe there was a systemic problem'


The following are excerpts from four days of deposition of Cardinal Bernard F. Law by Boston lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr., taken in connection with civil lawsuits filed against Law by three alleged victims of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley. The questioning took place on Aug. 13-14, Oct. 11, and Oct. 16, 2002. Two previous days of deposition were taken June 5 and June 7, 2002.

Law, comparing the abuse of a minor to the abuse of an adult woman:

A. ... I would also say, Mr. MacLeish, that while I have acknowledged and do acknowledge that the action of Father [Anthony J.] Rebeiro, the allegations against him, both the earlier and the current, are of totally unacceptable behavior, I find the evil of sexual abuse of a minor really qualitatively quite different and much more intense than that. Both are wrong.

Q. Than what? I'm sorry.

A. But in the one case you're talking about a minor. In the other case you're talking about an adult. I think that the abuse done to a minor is particularly heinous, and you seem to move from one to the other as though they're sort of the same thing. I would think that the action against the minor is particularly heinous.

On whether the Rev. Joseph R. Birmingham was returned to ministry without restriction after complaints were lodged against him:

Q. ... Is it not a fact that in the case of Father Joseph Birmingham, after three assessments, you sent him back to St. Brigid's in Lexington, Massachusetts, with no restrictions placed on his ministry? Is that not a fact?

A. I don't - first of all, I don't have the record before me so I can't answer specifically as to what kind of restriction was or was not placed on Father Birmingham. My recollection is that Father Birmingham went there as a dying man, and there was, by that very fact, a severe restriction on him. But I would need to check the files and see whether there was a restriction or not.

On the archdiocese's so-called confidential files on priests:

Q. Now, the confidential files, Cardinal Law, that would contain - I think we've established this - this information about sexual misconduct by a priest, where were those files physically located in 1984 and 1985?

A. My presumption is that the confidential file would have been in the - in the chancery, with access to it by the moderator of the Curia or by the chancellor.

Q. That would be Bishop Banks in 1984 was the moderator?

A. And earlier, it would have been Bishop Daily.

Q. Bishop Daily, that's correct. And you also had access, you had official access yourself if you had wanted to look at the confidential files?

A. Certainly, certainly.

Q. But I thought I understood you to state, and perhaps I'm wrong, that it was not routine in those days for - certainly wasn't routine for you to access the confidential file in 1984 and 1985. That's a fair statement, is it not?

A. That's a fair statement.

On whether Law thought his aides should have checked the Rev. Paul R. Shanley's ''confidential file'' after receiving a 1985 letter from a Rochester, N.Y., woman, Wilma Higgs, who complained that she had heard Shanley publicly advocate sex between men and boys:

Q. So when the 1985 Higgs letter comes in ... wouldn't you have expected that part of the process would have been to go to the confidential file and look at the records to see whether there had been other instances similar in nature in the past? Wouldn't that have been your expectation in 1985, Cardinal Law?

A. My expectation would be that the matter would be looked at, looked into adequately and investigated. You would need really to ask, I believe it's Father McCormack, how it is that he dealt with that matter and why he dealt with it the way he did.

I would ask you, however - I don't think it's - I don't think it necessarily follows that the Higgs letter coming in 1985, which is critical of what someone has said and written, I don't know that the handling of that necessarily means going to the file to see if there is something else like that. I think that a letter of that kind can also reasonably be handled on its own merits.

On whether the 1985 letter should have prompted Law himself to check Shanley's confidential file:

Q. Wouldn't it be just common sense, if there was a dispute between Mrs. Higgs and Paul Shanley, to take a look at the confidential file to see if anything like this had been said?

A. You know, I really - we're engaging here in conjecture as to what happened. I think that the appropriate person to put these questions to would be the person who handled this letter.

Q. Cardinal Law, I understand that, and I will put the specific questions. I'm interested in the practice and procedure that was in place in 1984 when my clients were at St. Jean's. ... If you have an allegation like this, wouldn't it have been consistent with your unwritten policy and just plain common sense to look at the files?

A. The policy in place was a policy of delegated authority.

Q. Right.

A. And confidence in the person who was delegated. I think that all pertinent information is helpful in making a judgment, and I think that things that would be in the file which would be pertinent would also be helpful in reaching a conclusion. I'm not certain that it would be necessary to go beyond the investigation of the letter itself if it reached a firm conclusion.

Q. But no down side to looking at the file?

A. To answer the question -

Q. No down side?

A. No.

Q. But even though there was a delegation to others, and I understand that, you still were the person ultimately responsible for the safety of the children in the 400 parishes and 200 schools that were under the Archdiocese of Boston in 1985?

A. A bishop has pastoral care for the whole diocese, that's correct.

Q. You're the one who was responsible ultimately?

A. That's correct.

Law's view of clergy sexual abuse when he arrived in the Boston Archdiocese:

Q. ... You would agree with me that when you came in as archbishop of Boston in 1984, you knew that the sexual abuse of children was something that was wrong. You had dealt with it in Missouri and you had dealt with it in Mississippi. Is that correct?

A. Yes.

Q. You knew that sexual abuse of children could be particularly traumatizing if it was inflicted by someone in a position of trust. You knew that in 1984; is that correct?

A. That's correct.

Q. You knew that there could be psychological damage to children if they were sexually abused by a priest; is that correct?

A. That's correct.

Q. And protecting children from sexual abuse by clergy was, therefore, a top priority for you in 1984 when you came in as archbishop of Boston?

A. Yes. But, you know, Mr. MacLeish, I would not be accurate if I were to leave the impression that this was seen as a pervasive, major problem, because, as a matter of fact, I did not see it as that.

Law's view today:

Q. Cardinal Law, you are generally aware, are you not, that the number of allegations against priests of the Archdiocese of Boston, both living and deceased, from 1960 is now approaching 100 priests? Are you aware of that?

A. I am not aware of all the cases that have come forward recently, and I can't, with any assurance, speak to the number, but it's a large number.

Law's reaction to allegations against Rev. George Rosenkranz:

Q. Exhibit 77 is a memorandum to you, Cardinal Law, from Father McCormack regarding George Rosenkranz that is in reference to the allegations made in Exhibit 76. Do you see that?

A. I do.

Q. And you'll see Father McCormack reporting to you personally in this memorandum about the allegations and also about his conversation with Father Rosenkranz. Do you see that?

A. Yes.

Q. Father Rosenkranz indicated he was upset by the charges and feared he would be publicly exposed or have to undergo a civil or criminal trial, and then it says: ''In 1981 he was arrested for alleged sexual act in the men's room of a department store. This case was dismissed by the Peabody police due to insufficient evidence.'' Do you see that?

A. I do.

Q. Do you know why that case was dismissed, Cardinal?

A. Other than insufficient evidence, as it states here, I don't.

Q. Did you know there was another man that was involved in that sexual act who was convicted?

A. I did not know that.

Q. Did Father McCormack ever tell you that?

A. I can't say that he did or didn't. I don't recollect that.

Q. Then in the next paragraph, Cardinal, it states, again, referring to Bishop McCormack's conversation with Father Rosenkranz: ''In our conversation, he said other people have accused him of being sexually interested in them. A woman in Canton whose husband accused him of being responsible for his wife's pregnancy and another woman who chased him around a dining room stripping herself of clothing.'' Do you see that?

A. I do.

Q. And that was reported to you by Bishop McCormack in this memorandum; is that correct?

A. It is contained in the memorandum, yes.

Q. Is that unusual type of information to be receiving about a priest?

A. It certainly is.

Q. It is it disturbing to you...

A. Absolutely.

Q. ... that Father Rosenkranz was discussing this with Bishop McCormack, these types of allegations? Was that of concern to you in 1987 when you read this?

A. Obviously the whole thing is of concern.

Law's reaction to allegations against Birmingham:

Q. But I would ask you, in light of your testimony this morning that the issue of childhood sexual abuse by clergy was not something that you considered to be pervasive in the time period from '84 to '89, there certainly were complaints that were made; is that correct?

A. That's correct.

Q. There were certainly priests who - one priest who had admitted engaging in it.

A. That's correct.

Q. Actually, two priests because Father (Eugene) O'Sullivan pled guilty, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. So now we have a letter concerning Father Birmingham. And isn't it the case - and I don't want to go over this again - but you assigned Father Birmingham to St. Brigid's in Lexington after there had been allegations that he had been involved in sexual misconduct with minors at St. Ann's in Gloucester; is that correct?

A. That's correct.

Q. And you, in fact, made Father Birmingham or assigned Father Birmingham the pastorship of St. Ann's in Gloucester; is that correct?

A. I believe I ... I believe I did.

Law, on whether his decision to send the Rev. John J. Geoghan to St. Julia in Weston was wrong:

Q. So you would agree with me that whatever judgments were made back in 1984 about the future of John Geoghan's behavior, turned out to be incorrect? ...

Q. Is that correct?

A. Well, it depends on how you - if you're telling me that they turned out to be incorrect because as a matter of fact he acted out later, that's true. If you mean that there was a fundamental flaw in the decision at the way it was reached or the intent, that's another matter.

Law, speaking to why no restrictions were placed on Geoghan in Weston in 1984, after reports he had molested children in Dorchester. Law refers to a psychological assessment of Geoghan:

A. Mr. MacLeish, you may view this as selectively reading from this letter, but all I can say to you is that the operative word from the Institute of the Living impacting the decision concerning his assignment is, ''It is both reasonable and therapeutic for him to be reassigned back to his parish.''

Whether or not you think that was wise, whether or not I think it is wise at this point is irrelevant to trying to see what the situation was at that point. It was on the basis of that recommendation, that finding, if you will, of the Institute of the Living, fully understanding that I had to make the decision, but that finding of the Institute of the Living carried a considerable weight in the decision to reassign him to St. Julia's.

They knew that he was in St. Julia's. They knew that it was full pastoral ministry. And it was on the basis of that finding of that Institute, in which we had reason to have confidence, that he was reassigned. He would not be reassigned today. He was, in fact, ultimately removed from that parish, as you know.

During the deposition, tempers flared on occasion between plaintiff attorney Roderick MacLeish and Law's attorney, J. Owen Todd.

Q. MacLeish: Did you send out any letter offering to be of help to any of the victims of Father John Geoghan who had come forward, that you can recall?

Todd: I object to that question as being insulting. It's obviously grandstanding. It can be serving no legitimate purposes of deposition, and it's harassing, clearly harassing. It has no legitimate purpose in this deposition.

MacLeish: That's absolutely incorrect, Mr. Todd.

Todd: It's correct, Mr. MacLeish.

MacLeish: You're absolutely incorrect ... Can you answer the question, please, Cardinal?

A. Yes. And I would agree with my counsel that this is a harassing question but I will answer your question.

Q. I hope you don't think there's a harassing tone to it. You may think it's not a question that you wish to answer but -

A. No, no. I'm happy to -

Q. It's a very simple question.

Todd: No. You just interrupted his answer.

MacLeish: And you just interrupted me, Mr. Todd. Let me withdraw the question and start again, Cardinal Law. We'll make it very easy.

Todd: Why don't you withdraw it and go on to something that's relevant.

MacLeish: No, no. I appreciate that. This is very relevant to this case.

Todd: No, it is not relevant to this case.

MacLeish: Mr. Todd, what did you just throw?

Todd: Why don't we certify that question and take it to the judge.

MacLeish: Did you just throw something across the room here?

Todd: At the basket, and I made a basket, and you ought to congratulate me for that.

Law, on the case of former priest James R. Porter of the Fall River Diocese, who assaulted more than 100 victims before he pleaded guilty to sexually molesting children and was sentenced to 18-20 years in prison in 1993:

A. It's hard, as I sit here, to say what I thought when, but, obviously, the establishment of a written policy, the establishment of an office, all indicates an effort to deal in a more systematic way with the problem that was more recurrent. I think that the case of Father Porter was a case that - that helped many of us understand more clearly how pervasive this problem can be in an individual case, not just in terms of the number of perpetrators, just as the focus on the archdiocese in January was an occasion to come to a clear understanding of the dimensions of the problem. I'm not sure that that understanding is yet run out as fully as it needs to.

Law, on his reaction to the number of accused priests whose names were brought forward between 1984 and 1989.

A. ... Of course, I was profoundly concerned and shocked by the fact that there would have been one ... I really did not believe there was a systemic problem. ... It never occurred to me it was necessary to point out [to priests of the archdiocese] that this kind of behavior is intolerable. ... It's intolerable in terms of our understanding of what the commitment of celibacy is. ...

On whether the nuns who ran the Leo House in New York, where Shanley worked in the 1990s, were informed about abuse allegations against him:

Q. Do you know why the Sisters of St. Agnes were apparently not informed when Paul Shanley went to work there that there were credible allegations, admitted allegations of child molestation by him? ...

A. I do not know who was informed of what. I would - my presumption would have been that those responsible would have been informed.

Q. ... And you first learned that Leo House was a place where children resided in Father Flatley's memorandum to you of September 13, 1995; is that correct?

A. That's correct.

Q. So approximately five months later, Paul Shanley is still working at Leo House?

A. Yes.

Law was asked about the kind words he had for Shanley in a letter noting the end of his career.

A. These are my words to a priest who, in the course of his many years of active ministry, did, in effect, preach God's word, share God's love to a number of people in an effective way.

Q. And committed unspeakable evil?

A. And committed unspeakable evil, that's correct. And one of the reasons why he's retired, one of the reasons why he's not on active ministry at that time is because of that. And he knew that. The reason why he was retiring at that point was because of that. And he knew that. It's a question of trying to be pastoral and reconciling to somebody who still remains a human being even though he has done terrible, terrible things, which - and he's paying the consequence of that by not being able to serve as a priest, and appropriately so.

This story ran on page A17 of the Boston Globe on 11/20/2002.
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