Miss. Case Dogs Law; Cardinal Admits Inaction on Priest
By Tom Mashberg and Robin Washington
June 6, 2002
Bernard Cardinal Law admitted under oath yesterday that as the No. 2 prelate in Mississippi in 1973, he allowed a priest to remain in a parish despite credible allegations the cleric was molesting boys, witnesses at Law's deposition said.
Law was confronted during his five-hour testimony in the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal with an affidavit from Kenneth P. Morrison, a 37-year-old ex-Mississippi man who alleges he was abused repeatedly as a boy by the Rev. George L. Broussard in the early 1970s.
"My father (Dr. Francis Morrison) later indicated to me that he had discussed (the abuse) with Bernard Law, who served as vicar general at the time," Morrison said in his affidavit.
"However, Broussard remained at the church (St. Peter's in Jackson, Miss.) for many more months after the church was notified about his abusive behavior and continued to abuse me."
People present at the deposition said afterward that Law recalled the meeting with Morrison's father, and the allegations about Broussard, as well as a separate meeting he had in Mississippi concerning another as-yet-unidentified priest accused of molestation.
"He really seemed taken aback when confronted with that affidavit," one witness said. "He didn't see it coming, couldn't deny it."
Rodney Ford, who was at the deposition as part of his family's suit against Law and the Archdiocese of Boston, and his attorney, Roderick MacLeish Jr., both declined afterward to precisely characterize Law's explanation for his actions in the Broussard case.
But Ford said: "He said he was aware of the allegations. He tried to put the emphasis on other people and not himself. He was trying to say that most of the accusations came to his attention because he was about to leave Mississippi. But even if that was the case, he was still in a position to address these matters before he left. He didn't take responsibility for them."
The Morrison affidavit and Law's sworn testimony yesterday mark the earliest evidence that Law was confronted with clergy molestation cases, long before he came to Boston - yet did nothing to alert parishioners or the authorities to the acts of brother priests.
In a deposition two weeks ago, he acknowledged handling a similar case after he became bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Giradeau, Mo., in December of 1973.
MacLeish deposed Law yesterday in the case of Rev. Paul R. Shanley, who is accused of raping Ford's son, Gregory, in Newton in the 1980s. He peppered the embattled cardinal with questions about his handling of a dozen archdiocese priests since 1984, when Law became archbishop of Boston.
Newly released church files lay out a clear, long-term effort by Law and his former subordinates in Boston - notably Bishops John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., Robert J. Banks of Green Bay, Wis., and Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, N.Y. - to deny or hush up word of priestly abuse while straining to find new work for molester clerics.
But the revelation about Broussard dates Law's own role in covering up for alleged molesters back three decades. Morrison, who grew up in Peabody and Framingham, moved to Mississippi in 1969, and now lives in Chicago, is preparing his own lawsuit against Law for his handling of the matter.
"Law did everything he could to keep this abuse quiet," Morrison, 37, said by phone yesterday, adding that he has direct knowledge that Broussard molested other boys between 1970 and 1974.
"My father went to see him in good faith," Morrison said. "He assured he would do something and did not. I was abused for another year. What does that tell you about your cardinal?"
Reached yesterday by phone in Louisiana, Broussard said "I don't want to talk to you," and hung up.
MacLeish and a spokesman for Law said after the questioning that by mutual agreement, neither side would divulge details of what Law had to say about his tenure in Boston. Written and audio-visual transcripts of the deposition could be available Friday, once Law completes another scheduled three hours of questioning by MacLeish.
The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, Law's spokesman, characterized yesterday's session as respectful.
"I thought the mood was very professional," he said. "I thought Mr. MacLeish was very courteous in his questioning, very straightforward in what he asked, and I thought the cardinal was very honest in responding to the questions."
Unlike Law's previous deposition two weeks ago by Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer representing 86 alleged victims of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, Coyne said the cardinal only occasionally responded with "I don't recall."
"That tended to happen mainly when the questions were dealing with details. It wasn't something that he kept settling on as a response," Coyne said.
"The cardinal has maintained that in many instances he delegated (actions) to the people that were under him. So at times it's fair to say that he couldn't recall because he wasn't really a part of the decision making process that was being done."
Coyne described Law as "very relaxed and very measured" during the session, and said though Law did not apologize to the alleged victims and family members who attended, he did take ultimate responsibility for the actions of his administration in Boston.
"He said even though he had people working for him he accepted full responsibility for those decisions," Coyne said.
But Paula Ford disputed that.
"He absolutely did not accept any responsibility and never apologized for anything," she said. "He never accepted responsibility. Everything was 'Hindsight is 20-20.' "
Ford said Law has changed his testimony on one point in the Shanley case. He said Law contradicted an earlier assertion in court papers received Friday that he never received a letter from Wilma Higgs of Rochester, N.Y., warning of Shanley's apparent endorsement of sex between adults and children.
But yesterday, she said, "He said he did read the letter."
Rodney Ford said the key theme of the day was that Law would not accept responsibility for his actions involving a multitude of priests - 70 living and 15 dead - whose names have been turned over to law enforcement because of credible abuse charges. Instead, Ford said, Law put the fault with others.
"When Cardinal Law was climbing the ladder of success to where he's gotten, he blamed everyone above him," Ford said.
"And when he got to the top of the ladder, he blamed everyone below him."
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