Cardinal's Sex Abuse Testimony Becoming a Play
New Play Called 'Sin: a Cardinal Deposed' [Boston MA]
December 31, 2003

BOSTON -- It was dramatic enough when it happened: a prince of the church coming face to face with the secular justice system, questioned by lawyers in a scandal over child sex abuse by priests.

Now the story of Cardinal Bernard Law's depositions in the Boston Archdiocese clergy sex abuse cases is coming to the stage.

A new play, "Sin: A Cardinal Deposed", to be produced by a small Chicago theater company uses Law's testimony in a series of depositions for dialogue.

"I think people will leave the theater full of questions, full of comments, full of wanting to discuss it more. To me, that's the best kind of theater ... and that's what this piece can do," said David Zak, artistic director of the Bailiwick Repertory Theater.

The play, written by Michael Murphy, a 46-year-old playwright with several off-off-Broadway shows to his name, is set to open March 1 for a six-week run through mid-April.

The clergy sex abuse cases created a furor in the Catholic church worldwide and led to Law's resignation in December 2002 as archbishop from the nation's fourth-largest diocese. Under his successor, the archdiocese reached an $85 million settlement with victims this year.

The deposition testimony by Law brought an exalted leader of the church into a rare high-stakes confrontation with lawyers determined to get justice for their clients.

The main characters in Murphy's play are Law and an attorney for the plaintiffs, who is an amalgam of two of the most prominent plaintiffs' attorneys in the clergy abuse cases: Roderick MacLeish Jr. and Mitchell Garabedian.

Several other actors speak the roles of about 20 other characters, including Law's attorneys, other church officials, family members and friends of victims, and, in the final speech, a victim. All the dialogue comes from deposition testimony or documents, such as letters, that were part of the case, said Murphy.

Murphy, of Palm Springs, Calif., is not Catholic but said he had friends from Boston and Long Island, N.Y., who were victims of sex abuse by priests. He said he was writing a fictional play about the topic when he came across the depositions, which he found "riveting."

Some of Murphy's other plays have also drawn inspiration from true stories, including a play about high school shootings that will be produced in March in New York, and a comedy based on a San Francisco drug case.

Murphy said he was more interested in "telling real stories, rather than making up stories."

"The breakdown in our moral fiber in society is what appalls me and fascinates me," he said. "Why are kids shooting each other? Why are priests raping boys? Why are their bosses covering it up?"

Murphy took six months to write the play and consulted with lawyers and friends who had been in depositions to get a better understanding of the interplay in them.

He said Law in the depositions is "very much a match for these attorneys. He was well-prepared. He was no foolish country priest."

But he also said he didn't make any attempt to show another side of Law.

"Some people will feel, defenders of Cardinal Law will feel, it's not fair. It is, I think, a reflection of what happened in the deposition," he said.

Neither a spokesman for the archdiocese nor Law's attorney, J. Owen Todd, immediately returned messages seeking comment Tuesday. A message left at the Sisters of Mercy of Alma in Alma, Mich., which runs a Maryland convent where Law has been living since his resignation, wasn't immediately returned.

Law was deposed a number of times in 2002 in clergy sex abuse cases before his Dec. 13, 2002, resignation.

Garabedian, who questioned Law on behalf of 86 people who said they had been abused by defrocked priest John Geoghan, said he was curious about the play and might even go see it.

"While the deposition of Bernard Cardinal Law was being taken, it was clear that history was being made. ... I believe that translating the depositions into theatrical form would be fascinating," said Garabedian. Garabedian had no comment on being part of one of the main characters.

Gary Bergeron, a victim of abuse by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham, said he thought the play was "an interesting concept."

"I think that anything that helps to raise the public awareness surrounding sexual abuse of children is a good thing. And I hope that, in some way, shape or form, this will be part of that effort," said Bergeron who sat in one of Law's depositions.

The play will run in the 90-seat "studio" space of the theater that has a tradition of doing controversial work, Zak, the artistic director, said. It is a short 70-minute piece with no intermission.

Zak said the Bailiwick is among a group of Off-Loop theaters, which are smaller theaters on Chicago's north side.

Zak said other theaters have already contacted him, interested in the play.

"I hope it will be something that will be seen around the country. ... It literally represents the whole Catholic church experience across the country," he said.


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