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Spotlight Report

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Law testifies before panel considering criminal charges

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, and Wendy Davis, Globe Correspondent, 2/26/2003

He has been pilloried from the pews, interrogated in multiple depositions, and forced to resign in disgrace from the job he held for 18 years.

Yesterday, Cardinal Bernard F. Law's painful descent from privilege reached a new milestone, when the former archbishop of Boston shuttled in through a side door at the attorney general's office and spent a full day answering questions from a grand jury considering criminal charges against him and the church.

''If anybody said 15 months ago that the cardinal-archbishop of Boston could be facing a jail term, they would have thought you were crazy,'' said Thomas H. Groome, a professor of theology at Boston College. ''It still seems a remote possibility, but even the very specter of it is a moment in time that we didn't expect to see.''

Law, who last spoke to the news media on Dec. 18, yesterday offered no insight into his thoughts about being summoned to a grand jury. At 9:30 a.m., Law walked quickly past a crowd of reporters and photographers without acknowledging them. He departed shortly after 5:30 p.m., again without saying a word.

But the cardinal's personal lawyer, J. Owen Todd, said Law felt ''not embarrassed, just sadness that the situation has developed which would necessitate the cardinal and grand jury to have to investigate what happened.''

Todd said the proceeding went smoothly.

''I couldn't be more pleased,'' he said, as he described Law's questioner, Assistant Attorney General Michele Leigh Adelman, as ''very respectful and courteous.'' Todd said that Law answered all questions asked of him, without asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. ''Cardinal Law welcomed the opportunity to assist this grand jury in the important task of investigating the abuse of children by the clergy.''

Law's appearance before the grand jury, and Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly's demand that six other Catholic prelates testify before the panel, is the last hope held by victims and other disenchanted Catholics who have been searching for someone to hold accountable for the bishops' failure to remove abusive priests from ministry.

Victim advocates say they are convinced that the church will not punish bishops who failed to stop abuse, and so they are pinning their hopes on prosecutors.

''They are our best hope, but the jury is still out on grand juries,'' said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

In several cities around the country, including Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and St. Louis, grand juries are now investigating the Roman Catholic Church's handling of sexually abusive priests. None has issued criminal indictments.

In Suffolk County, N.Y., a grand jury on Jan. 17 issued a scathing report about the ''reprehensible'' conduct of the Diocese of Rockville Centre that includes a warning label from the prosecutor suggesting that anyone under 18 shouldn't read it.

''The grand jury concludes that the history of the Diocese of Rockville Centre demonstrates that as an institution they are incapable of properly handling issues relating to the sexual abuse of children by priests,'' the grand jury declared. ''The grand jury concludes that the conduct of certain diocesan officials would have warranted criminal prosecution but for the fact that the existing statutes are inadequate.''

In New Hampshire, then-Attorney General Philip T. McLaughlin in December declared that he had ''gathered sufficient evidence to present to the grand jury one or more indictments against the Diocese of Manchester for endangering the welfare of children.''

But McLaughlin decided not to indict the diocese after church officials agreed to acknowledge that the state had evidence to secure a possible conviction against the diocese and agreed to comply with several negotiated child protection measures.

And in Westchester County, N.Y., a grand jury last June accused the Archdiocese of New York of ''an orchestrated effort to protect abusing clergy members from investigation, arrest, and prosecution.''

In Boston, Reilly has done his best to lower expectations that any church officials will be indicted or jailed, saying that Massachusetts laws do not appear to offer him an easy prosecutorial route.

Law's lawyer said yesterday that he does not expect his client to be indicted.

Todd said he saw ''no indication'' that the grand jury is considering bringing criminal charges against Law or any other bishop. ''The charge of this grand jury is a good deal broader than that,'' he said, adding that he believes the grand jury is more focused on whether children are now safe from abuse.

Michael Paulson can be reached at

This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on 2/26/2003.
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