Bernard Cardinal Law was personally aware of multiple sex abuse complaints against six priests between 1984 and 1989 and possibly more but did not think his archdiocese faced “a major, overwhelming problem,” according to testimony released yesterday.
“I was facing a major problem with those priests,” Law told attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr. during a sworn deposition Oct. 16 in the Catholic Church molestation scandal. “I was not facing a major problem with the priesthood.”
Law’s remarks came after MacLeish confronted him with documents on a dozen problem priests obtained by court order in late summer. MacLeish has since received files on six more priests accused of abuse and will receive files on 67 more by week’s end.
Law’s statements appear to undercut his claims earlier this year that he was in the dark about the number of archdiocese clerics implicated in abuse.
In addition to defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, whom Law has previously admitted to being aware of as a repeat child abuser, the clerics Law acknowledged knowing about personally were:
The late Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham, who is alleged to have molested 50 or more boys over a 29-year career at parishes in Sudbury, Salem, Lowell, Gloucester, Brighton and Lexington.
Birmingham, a seminary classmate of Bishop John B. McCormack, one of Law’s former personnel subordinates and now bishop of Manchester, N.H., died in 1989.
Law reassigned him twice in the 1980s despite multiple allegations.
The Rev. Eugene J. O’Sullivan, who pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a St. Agnes Church, Arlington, altar boy in 1985, yet was allowed by Law to take an assignment with the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., in which O’Sullivan worked with children.
Law admitted he was not aware of any steps by Boston to alert parishioners in New Jersey to O’Sullivan’s crimes, saying of the priest “he worked evidently well” there.
He was recalled to the Archdiocese of Boston in 1992 and banned from serving as a priest.
The Rev. George J. Rosenkranz, who served at Blessed Sacrament Church in Saugus in the 1970s and was arrested in a public men’s room in 1981 and charged with lewd conduct — charges later were dropped after church intervention.
Law said he did not remove Rosenkranz in the 1980s, letting him serve at St. John’s Church in Salem until 1990, when the priest, who faces multiple suits, was put on sick leave amid abuse allegations.
The Rev. Anthony J. Rebeiro, who was placed on administrative leave from the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home and Quigley Memorial Hospital in August after accusations surfaced that he sexually abused a child 30 years ago.
In March 1984, charges surfaced that Rebeiro had exposed himself and masturbated in front of a parishioner’s wife while her husband was at a funeral.
Law testified the charges were “terribly serious,” yet wrote to the alleged victim’s husband saying “I find this matter is something that is personal to Father Rebeiro and must be considered such.”
Law claimed to have no recollection of seeing that letter sent over his signature, and stated later in the deposition he signs many “routine” letters without reading them.
“Did I on April the 3rd, 1984, three days into the job, read every letter that was put before me?” he said. “Probably not.”
The Rev. Daniel M. Graham, whom Law allowed to remain as a parochial vicar on the South Shore until mid-2002, though the priest admitted to molestation in 1988.
MacLeish asked Law why Graham, who was not supposed to “be involved in ministry that involves minors,” according to church’s own requirements for his readmittance, was given such a post.
“Do you have any explanation?” for the apparent special treatment of Graham, MacLeish asked.
“No, I really don’t,” Law said.
The cardinal’s remarks on the six priests came at the end of his six-day deposition in the Rev. Paul R. Shanley sex abuse suit.
During it, Law stood by his insistence Shanley’s extensive personnel file replete with allegations of molestation and comments by the indicted priest about sex between men and juveniles never came to his attention.
But he admitted enough complaints against Shanley surfaced in the mid-1980s just after Law arrived in Boston to have forced a review of the priest’s files.
Those complaints, brought to the attention of Bishop Robert J. Banks, Law’s personnel delegate at the time, included: a letter from Wilma Higgs, a Rochester, N.Y., woman citing “deviant” public remarks by Shanley about man-boy love; and a lengthy 1988 complaint about Shanley engaging “in improper activity with a mentally ill man” at McLean Hospital in Belmont, where Shanley was pastor.
“It would have been much better had another step been taken, yes,” Law said about Banks’ actions.
Asked why Banks took no such steps, Law said: “I think that you will have him under deposition and he can answer for himself.”
Law’s mention of former subordinates was an ongoing feature. At various times he suggested MacLeish should address his questions about past personnel matters to Bishops John J. McCormack, now of Manchester, N.H.; Thomas V. Daily, now of Brooklyn, N.Y., Banks, now of Green Bay, Wis.; and Msgr. Brian M. Flatley, still with the Archdiocese of Boston.
“The way in which these matters were handled was through delegation,” Law said. “My expectation was and is that allegations would be looked at, would be examined, and that credible allegations would be acted upon.
“A number of things come to your attention every single day,” the cardinal said at one point. “If they’re going to be handled well and expeditiously, delegation is a good way for that to happen.”
Law’s insistence the problem was best handled by subordinates angered the parents of two alleged abuse victims yesterday.
Weston’s Susan Fulchino, whose husband was molested by jailed former priest James R. Porter, and whose son was abused by Geoghan, said:
“Cardinal Law has to take responsibility for his actions. He is not a stupid man. He made some calculated choices and he must be taken to account for them.”