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Cardinal Law Says He Can't Recall Letters About Abusive Priest, Relied On Doctors' Advice

May 9, 2002 | AP Alleged victims of now-defrocked priest John Geoghan reacted with disbelief after Cardinal Bernard Law said he didn't remember letters accusing Geoghan of sex abuse and complaining about his transfer from parish to parish.

"I found that the cardinal had some selective amnesia," said alleged victim Mark Keane, who heard Law's testimony during a deposition Wednesday.

The cardinal's deposition was ordered in a lawsuit filed by 86 people who say Law and the Boston Archdiocese failed to protect youngsters from Geoghan, who has been accused of sexually abusing more than 130 children over three decades.

The rare deposition of a high-ranking church leader was ordered after the archdiocese last week backed out of a settlement with the Geoghan victims that would have been worth up to dlrs 30 million.

Law insisted he relied on the advice of doctors and subordinates when he approved the transfer of Geoghan, who was convicted in January of molesting a boy and is serving nine to 10 years in prison.

The deposition, scheduled to continue Friday and Monday, was held behind closed doors. Transcripts were released after morning and afternoon sessions.

Phil Saviano, head of the New England chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he has low expectations for the depositions.

"I think it's really significant, and he certainly should be deposed, but I'm not hopeful that there's going to be earth-shattering information exposed," he said.

The deposition began with the cardinal's attorney, Wilson Rogers Jr., making a standing objection to the questioning, saying, "The inquiry into the inner workings of the church was inappropriate."

Law later testified that he didn't recall reading letters about Geoghan's behavior, and said he was told by doctors that Geoghan was not a threat.

He specifically said he did not remember a letter from Margaret Gallant, a relative of seven alleged Geoghan victims who was upset that the church gave Geoghan another chance at a parish in Boston. Nor did he recall Bishop John D'Arcy's letter saying Geoghan was unfit to be reassigned.

But Law said he recognized his own handwriting on a note forwarding one of Gallant's letters to Bishop Thomas Daily, one of his subordinates, with the instructions, "Urgent, please follow through."

In the 1984 letter, Gallant alleged that Geoghan had abused seven people at a Boston parish.

Law emphasized he relied on the judgment of others in decisions concerning Geoghan. He has said he was prompted to assign Geoghan to a new parish on the advice of two doctors, even though both lacked proper credentials in sex abuse matters and one had been accused in a lawsuit of molesting one of his patients.

"I'm sure that medical assurance was given," Law said. "Whether it was subsequently put in writing and in an earlier form given orally, I cannot say.

"But I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that this letter would never have been put before me for a signature had we not had the assurance of someone competent to give that assurance that this assignment was safe."

Law said sexual abuse is a "gravely sinful act."

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents the alleged Geoghan victims, said it's "astounding" that Law didn't recall the warnings about Geoghan.

"He just seemed very, very sad but yet he wouldn't admit what I believe is the truth, in that he knew what was going on," Garabedian said.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Morrissey defended Law's testimony.

"Cardinal Law cooperated fully and answered all the questions asked of him," she said in a statement.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs spent much of a two-hour afternoon session questioning Law on the collapse of the settlement with alleged Geoghan victims.

Attorney William Gordon questioned the council's decision to inform the media of its rejection of the deal before the alleged victims.

Law said he and his advisers decided they wanted to get the information out quickly. But in hindsight, he acknowledged he could have handled it differently.

"It's part of what I have come to experience as an exceedingly painful, complicated mess," Law said.

Although not optimistic about the deposition, Saviano said victims were relieved with the recent arrests of retired priests Paul Shanley and Ronald Paquin. Both men were charged with child rape.

"Resolution for us would be the cardinal resigning," he said. "Unfortunately, we have to take what we can get."

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