Boston Scrutinizes Law's Depositions: Critics Say Cardinal Dodges Responsibility in Abuse Cases. (Church in Crisis)

By Colbert, Chuck | National Catholic Reporter, August 30, 2002 | Go to article overview

Boston Scrutinizes Law's Depositions: Critics Say Cardinal Dodges Responsibility in Abuse Cases. (Church in Crisis)


Colbert, Chuck, National Catholic Reporter


Dog days in August are not supposed to generate banner headlines in New England; unless, of course, they pertain to heat waves and baseball. But even eight straight days of 90 degree temperatures and the Red Sox could not compete for ink and air time with the release of two-days worth of transcript, several hundred pages long, from Cardinal Bernard Law's continuing depositions, and yet more allegations of sex abuse by archdiocesan priests.

Like Law's depositions, the new allegations raise concerns not only about Law's handling of allegations of sex abuse during his tenure, but also about those advising him. For example, a Boston Globe "Spotlight Report" found that "three days after Bernard F. Law became archbishop of Boston in March 1984, an anguished parishioner from Franklin [Mass.] wrote Law a detailed letter alleging that a parish priest had twice sexually molested his wife and that the parish's pastor and the local auxiliary bishop treated the couple with hostility."

That letter written by Gregory B. Nash asked Law to meet with the couple and "open his shepherd's heart" to them. But Law neither met with nor helped the couple. Instead, he wrote back to Nash on April 3, 1984, saying: "After some consultation, I find that this matter is something that is personal to Fr. [Anthony J.] Rebeiro and must be considered such." The letter was marked "Confidential," according to the Globe report.

Doubts about charges

WHDH-TV, the local NBC affiliate, reported on a lawsuit, filed by a man alleging abuse for several years during the 1980s by Fr. Michael Smith Foster, then a newly ordained priest at Sacred Heart Church in Newton, Mass. Paul R. Edwards, 35, alleges that Foster began molesting him when Edwards was 15 years old, the Globe reported.

Foster, now a monsignor, is the archdiocese's primary canon lawyer and has advised the cardinal on aspects of canon law pertaining to the sex abuse scandal. He is also the author of Annulment: The Wedding that Was: How the Church Can Declare a Marriage Null, and serves as presiding judge of the Metropolitan Tribunal, which handles annulment cases. Foster is the highest ranking archdiocesan official to be charged in the sex abuse scandal. He has denied the allegations, but pending an investigation and resolution to the charges, he has requested to be placed on administrative leave. Law granted the request. At the same time, Foster has become a focus of a group of priests and lay people who have expressed strong doubts about the charges against him and have raised the issue of what can be done when a priest is falsely accused.

Those new allegations and Law's testimony generated a variety of responses and concerns. Interviews with a dozen people, including priests, a nun, members of the laity, abuse survivors, and spokespersons from the two major church-reform and victim-survivor advocacy groups, indicate that the scandal in the Boston archdiocese continues to take a pastoral, financial and spiritual toll.

On Aug. 13, the day the written transcripts were released to the public, New England Cable News broadcast more than five hours of videotapes of Law's deposition taken on June 5 and 7. He was questioned then by Roderick MacLeish, a Boston attorney who represents Gregory Ford and his parents, Paula and Rodney Ford, among others, in a civil negligence lawsuit against the cardinal. The case stems from alleged sexual misconduct by Fr. Paul R. Shanley, who also faces criminal proceedings in the rape of four boys and who has denied the charges.

Although Law through his attorneys requested that the depositions not be released until the cardinal had completed his testimony, a judge denied the request, citing widespread public interest as a reason for her decision.

A major portion of the deposition focused on the cardinal's handling of priests accused of sexual misconduct and their reassignment to parish ministry, without notifying parishioners. …

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