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Spotlight Report

Memory questioned in abuse case

Church lawyer cites possible contradiction

By Wendy Davis, Globe Correspondent, 4/8/2003

The sister of Gregory Ford, who says he was sexually abused by the Rev. Paul Shanley, testified during a deposition that she remembered her brother ''in an enraged state,'' screaming that he had been raped by his father as he was taken by ambulance to the hospital six years ago, a church lawyer said during a court hearing on Friday.

The statement by the attorney for a former top official of the Archdiocese of Boston was included in a transcript of the proceeding obtained by the Globe yesterday. But Kathryn Ford, in a telephone interview, denied actually hearing her brother make the accusation.

And her deposition, which the church attorney referred to in court last week, indicates that she did not personally hear her brother say that and was testifying based on what other people told her.

Gregory Ford's parents, Rodney and Paula, condemned church lawyers yesterday for implying that Rodney had abused Gregory. ''The church wants to continue to play hardball and accuse me of raping my child. It's a disgrace,'' the elder Ford said.

At the conclusion of Friday's hearing, Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney granted church lawyers extra time to take depositions to explore whether there was evidence that Gregory Ford had been sexually abused by anyone other than Shanley.

Ford, now 25, and his parents have sued the archdiocese, contending that Shanley molested Gregory from the time he was 6 until he was 12, but that he repressed memories of the abuse until last year.

In court Friday, Joseph Doherty, a lawyer for Bishop John McCormack, a former top aide to Cardinal Bernard Law, represented to Sweeney that Kathryn Ford had testified about the screaming incident under oath, saying that she ''remembered it clearly'' and that her brother ''was screaming out not only in the house, but apparently out on the front lawn, that he had been raped by his father.''

Doherty said yesterday that he did not mean to imply that Kathryn Ford had heard her brother's comments. ''I didn't mean to suggest to the court that she was there and witnessed this first-hand,'' said Doherty.

Nonetheless, Doherty said her testimony is significant because it weighs against Ford's claim that he repressed memories of sexual abuse until last year. ''Obviously if he's making statements, whether they're true or whether they're not true, relating to abuse by others . . . that may contradict from an evidentiary standpoint his assertion that he had no ability to remember sexual abuse by anyone prior to January 2002,'' said Doherty.

Kathryn Ford said yesterday that she did not overhear her brother, Gregory, make any specific accusations on the night of Feb. 13, 1997, her 16th birthday. She said she was coming home from a school function when she saw police cars and an ambulance and ''just sort of heard [Gregory] yelling in a drunken scream.''

In her pretrial deposition, made available yesterday evening, Kathryn Ford testified that Joanne Vacca, a Newton neighbor, told her that Gregory accused his father of raping him. Kathryn Ford also testified in her deposition that she was skeptical of the statement. ''I remember thinking that it was impossible, that there was no way that happened,'' she testified.

But Vacca told reporters yesterday in the law office of Greenberg Traurig, the firm which represents the Fords, that she did not hear Gregory Ford accuse his father of sexual abuse, but did overhear him scream, ''How would you like to be a little boy and be raped?''

Jeffrey Newman, one of the Fords' lawyers, said yesterday that hospital records from 1997 contain an accusation that Gregory had been molested by a ''neighbor and cousin,'' but said Gregory later said that he was talking about games of ''strip-poker'' between himself and other neighborhood children, who were all between the ages of 7 and 9 at the time.

Doherty also said in court on Friday that Eric Busa, cousin to another alleged Shanley victim, Paul Busa, testified in a pretrial deposition that Gregory once said he was raped by a person other than either his father or Shanley. In a telephone interview last night, Busa said Gregory Ford told him several years ago that he was raped, but did not say by whom.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 4/8/2003.
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