Law Testifies before Grand Jury Weighing Criminal Charges

By Jay Lindsay
Foster's Daily Democrat [Boston MA]
Downloaded February 26, 2003

BOSTON (AP) - Cardinal Bernard Law testified Tuesday before a grand jury weighing criminal charges against church officials involved in the clergy sex abuse scandal in the first known case of an American cardinal appearing before a grand jury.

Law had no comment as walked by reporters at the end of a full day of testimony at Attorney General Thomas Reilly's office.

His lawyer, J. Owen Todd, said the grand jury and assistant attorney general Michelle Adelman focused on the evolution of the archdiocese's policy with abusive priests during Law's tenure, which began in 1984 and ended in December, when Law resigned.

Asked if the cardinal was embarrassed to be in what Todd described as an "unprecedented" situation, Todd said, "Not embarrassed. I would say saddened that the situation has developed to where it's necessary for the cardinal and the grand jury to have to investigate what happened."

Todd said he didn't expect the grand jury to indict Law, adding he was unaware of any criminal probe into Law's activities.

"I don't think we're anywhere near concerned about that," he said.

Reilly's office had no comment on Law's appearance or criminal charges against church officials. Reilly, who convened the grand jury last year, has acknowledged that it will be difficult to file criminal charges against any church officials.

"There was a cover-up. There was an elaborate scheme," Reilly said in December. But "it is very difficult under the criminal laws of this state to hold a superior accountable for the acts of another."

Law has been deposed several times in lawsuits by alleged victims of sexual abuse.

Until recently, church officials were not required to report sexual abuse of children to civil authorities. A new law now makes reckless endangerment of children a crime, and requires church officials to report suspected abuse.

Also on Tuesday, the church said it's seeking an appeal of a decision by a Superior Court judge who ruled last week that the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion does not shield the church from the roughly 400 civil suits against it.

Last Thursday, Judge Constance M. Sweeney said if she granted the church immunity on First Amendment grounds, the archdiocese would enjoy all the protections of secular law without being accountable to provisions that protect the rest of society, particularly children.

Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., an attorney for numerous alleged victims of clergy sex abuse, called the move another delay tactic and said he would oppose it.

"It's their typical strategy of trying to wear down the victims of abuse, wear them out, while saying they want healing," he said.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the Boston archdiocese, said the church is simply exercising its right to appeal a decision it didn't agree with. He said it doesn't delay the archdiocese's work to reach resolution in the civil cases.

"No matter what happens, the archdiocese is not going to walk away from its responsibility to settle fairly with the victims," Coyne said.

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