Cardinal Law Said He Relied on Others in Geoghan Case

By Denise Lavoie
Associated Press, carried in [Boston AP]
January 14, 2003

The letter claiming the Rev. John J. Geoghan had molested boys arrived on Cardinal Bernard Law's desk in September 1984, just six months after he became leader of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Law wrote ''Urgent, please follow through'' on the envelope, telling a subordinate to look into the allegation, made while Geoghan was a priest at St. Brendan's parish in Dorchester.

When questioned in a deposition last May, Law said he recognized his handwriting but did not recall the letter.

''I relied on those who assisted me in this matter to do all that was appropriate,'' Law said.

Transcripts of Law's deposition in the Geoghan case was released publicly Tuesday.

Law was questioned over four days in May and July in a civil lawsuit brought by 86 people who said they were sexually abused by Geoghan while they were children. The Boston archdiocese eventually agreed to settle the cases for $10 million.

In his deposition, Law repeated a defense he has used repeatedly since the clergy sexual abuse scandal first erupted a year ago, when court documents revealed that Geoghan and other wayward priests were not removed from ministry after sexual abuse allegations were made. Instead, they were repeatedly transferred from parish to parish.

Law said he relied on those who worked for him and the opinions of medical and psychiatric specialists who evaluated Geoghan.

Geoghan was convicted in January 2002 of groping a boy in a swimming pool and is serving nine to 10 years in prison.

Law and other church officials were accused of negligence in civil lawsuits for allegedly ignoring warning signs that Geoghan was a danger to children.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represented the 86 Geoghan plaintiffs, criticized Law and other church officials for allowing Geoghan to remain in parish work even after a psychiatrist diagnosed him as a pedophile in 1989.

''Father Geoghan was not only shuffled from church to church to church, but from hospital to hospital to hospital, while he himself was shuffling from child to child to child,'' Garabedian said at a news conference Tuesday after the transcripts of Law's deposition were released.

In August 1989, Geoghan was admitted for treatment at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn. Doctors at the facility later said he had responded well to treatment and that he could safely return to parish work.

In November 1989, Law reassigned Geoghan back to parish ministry at St. Julia's in Weston.

''I must tell you that I relied on the (Institute of Living) in its recommendation that it was safe to put him back in parish ministry,'' Law said.

Law, who resigned as archbishop of Boston in December because of the sex abuse scandal, said he regretted reassigning Geoghan.

''Our policy now is that if there is one credible allegation of sexual abuse against a minor, a priest may not be assigned either to a parish or to any other assignment,'' Law said.

''I think that's what it should be: Zero toleration policy. And I wish to God that that had been our policy in 1984, but it was not,'' Law said.

Law's deposition in the Geoghan case started just days after the archdiocese backed out of a proposed settlement of up to $30 million for the 86 Geoghan plaintiffs.

William Gordon, an attorney at Garabedian's law firm, questioned Law extensively about the collapse of the earlier deal and the role of the archdiocese's finance council. Law said he urged members of the council to approve the deal, but the panel rejected it as too expensive, given hundreds of other pending lawsuits against the church in clergy sex abuse cases.

Editor's Note: Denise Lavoie is a Boston-based reporter covering the courts and legal issues.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.