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Cardinal Law to Testify Before Grand Jury

Feb 24, 2003 | AP Cardinal Bernard Law has been called to testify Tuesday before a grand jury examining how the church dealt with sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, though attorneys say it's unlikely Law will face criminal charges.

Law resigned as Boston archbishop last December, concluding a year of revelations that he and top aides reassigned priests who had been accused of molesting minors.

The cardinal has been deposed for several civil lawsuits filed by alleged abuse victims, but this is the first time he is to testify before a criminal grand jury about the scandal.

Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly convened the panel last year. Its job is to investigate whether to bring charges against Law or his former top aides.

While Reilly has been publicly scathing in his criticism of church officials, he also has said that state law makes it difficult if not impossible to charge them with concealing clergy misconduct or failing to protect children.

``There was a cover-up. There was an elaborate scheme,'' Reilly said in December. But ``it is very difficult under the criminal laws of this state to hold a superior accountable for the acts of another.''

Reilly declined to discuss Law's testimony. Law's attorney, J. Owen Todd, did not return a telephone call seeking comment Monday, and the archdiocese referred all questions to its attorney.

Until recently, child endangerment was not specifically addressed under Massachusetts law. Church officials also were not required to report sexual abuse of children to civil authorities.

A new law now makes reckless endangerment of children a crime, and requires church officials to report suspected abuse.

At least eight top officials in the Boston Archdiocese have been subpoenaed to answer questions about how they handled complaints against errant priests. Law is the first American cardinal known to have received such a request from a grand jury since the abuse crisis began in January 2002.

Lawyers who have followed the probe say it is unlikely the grand jury will indict church officials. The state laws in play would require prosecutors to show Law or other church supervisors intended to help abusive priests molest children by transferring them or failing to report them to authorities.

Law ``certainly did a huge cover-up, but he didn't want the kids to get abused, so I have trouble seeing the necessary criminal intent,'' said Robert Bloom, a professor at Boston College Law School.

In December, the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., struck a deal with prosecutors to avoid criminal indictment by a grand jury. As part of the agreement, the diocese admitted it likely would have been convicted of failing to protect children from abusive priests.

Two weeks ago, a special grand jury on Long Island issued a blistering report that accused the Diocese of Rockville Centre of ignoring or transferring alleged molester priests from parish to parish.

Some victims' advocates hope a similar report emerges from the Boston investigation.

``I would like to see a comprehensive, transparent report where the attorney general does not defer to the clerical culture of secrecy that got us into this problem,'' said Bill Gately, New England spokesman for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Once among America's most influential Catholic clergymen, Law has been on private retreat at a Benedictine monastery near Pittsburgh. He plans to serve as the chaplain for the Sisters of Mercy of Alma, a religious order in Clinton, Md.

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