Cardinal Bernard Law, answering an attorney’s questions under oath Wednesday, maintained that he relied on the advice of doctors and subordinates when he approved the parish transfer of a priest accused of sexually abusing children.
The deposition was ordered in a civil lawsuit accusing Law of negligence in supervising a pedophile priest John Geoghan whose case helped trigger the church’s sex abuse crisis.
The Archdiocese of Boston had settled with the 86 victims who accused Geoghan of sexual abuse for an estimated $15 million to 30 million, but it backed out of the settlement last week. A judge ordered the deposition be held immediately.
Law, who has withstood repeated calls for his resignation from people who say he has mishandled the sex abuse cases, arrived at the downtown courthouse amid heavy security.
The closed-door deposition opened with his attorney, Wilson Rogers Jr., making a standing objection to the questioning, saying “the inquiry into the inner workings of the church was inappropriate.”
Under questioning, Law explained that he was both a U.S. citizen and a citizen of the Vatican (news – web sites), of which he is, as a cardinal, technically a “prince.” He said he only recently learned of that status.
“But I must say that it hasn’t been something that I’ve been conscious of in the past 17 years,” Law said, according to an 88-page transcript of the morning session, released by attorneys for the plaintiffs.
It had been suggested Law could have diplomatic immunity from civil lawsuits because of his dual citizenship with the Vatican.
William Gordon, an attorney for the plaintiffs, challenged Law about why he approved Geoghan’s transfer in 1984, even though he had received letters and other evidence of abuse by Geoghan.
Law said he didn’t recall reading letters warning about Geoghan’s behavior — including one from his own secretary — and that doctors said Geoghan was not a threat.
“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.”
He acknowledged, however, that the archdiocese had no written policy on handling allegations of sexual abuse by priests at the time.
Geoghan is currently serving a 9- to 10-year prison term after being convicted of raping a boy. He has been accused of molesting more than 130 children.
The deposition of Law is a legal rarity for someone of such high church ranking.