The personnel file of a priest accused of child rape contained sexual abuse complaints dating to 1966, but Cardinal Bernard Law never looked at the file before promoting him, according to transcripts of Law’s deposition released Tuesday.
As he has in the past, Law said repeatedly that he relied on the recommendations of subordinates and scattered church records in deciding whether to return priests to parish work even after receiving sexual abuse allegations against them.
“I wish to God it were possible, as I have said on other occasions, to go back in time, but it isn’t. I’m not able to go back,” Law said.
More than 370 pages of transcripts and seven hours of videotapes of Law’s June deposition in lawsuits filed against him and others related to alleged abuse by the Rev. Paul Shanley were made public Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, Law resumed giving a deposition to the plaintiffs’ attorneys behind closed doors.
Shanley, 71, and once known for his street ministry to gay and troubled youths, is jailed awaiting trial on child rape charges. He was indicted in June on charges he abused boys 6 to 15 years old from 1979 to 1989 while he was a priest at a church in suburban Newton. He has pleaded innocent.
The Boston Archdiocese is at the center of a nationwide priest sex-abuse scandal that erupted after it was disclosed that Law knew of accusations against former priest John Geoghan but continued to shuffle him among parishes. The archdiocese has been hit with hundreds of allegations against dozens of priests.
Under questioning from Roderick MacLeish, an attorney for Shanley’s alleged victims, Law acknowledged that a complaint was sent to the archdiocese in 1966 alleging Shanley had sexually abused a boy.
But Law said he did not examine Shanley’s personnel file, which contained that allegation and others, before promoting Shanley in 1985 to pastor at St. Jean’s parish in Newton.
Law also said he did not recall reading a 1985 letter from a woman who said Shanley gave a talk in which he said, “When adults have sex with children, the children seduced them.”
MacLeish presented Law with a copy of a letter in which Bishop John McCormack told the woman Law had received her letter.
Law said the church’s records were kept in “a lot of disparate places” and that he had no reason to believe Shanley had been abusing children. He has said he had no knowledge of allegations against Shanley until 1993.
“But certainly there was information about Paul Shanley that was not readily available and it would be helpful to have been,” Law said.
Besides questions about archdiocese records, MacLeish asked Law about part of his legal defense: that negligence by alleged victims sometimes contributed to their abuse.
Law said he was unsure about the legal meaning of the language drafted by his lawyers. “But I do know that my own conviction is that a child is not responsible for the abuse that he suffers or she suffers,” he said.
Law was also asked about other priests accused of abuse. He acknowledged allowing the Rev. Daniel Graham, who had admitted sexually abusing a boy, to return to parish work in 1988, but said he had received assurances the priest was safe to minister.
Law also said he knew the Rev. Eugene O’Sullivan had pleaded guilty to raping an altar boy shortly after Law became bishop in 1984 but approved of his reassignment to Metuchen, N.J.
Attorneys for both sides had hoped to settle the Shanley lawsuits, but talks broke down and depositions resumed.