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  Judge's Ruling in Rueger Case Appears 'Open to Interpretation'

By Kenneth J. Moynihan
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
April 9, 2003

You may recall reading last week about a hearing at which Superior Court Judge Mary Lou Rup ruled on a diocesan request for an order protecting Bishop Daniel P. Reilly from being questioned about the House of Affirmation. The front-page headline last Tuesday said, "Ruling goes against diocese on questioning of Reilly.''The lead sentence of the story said: "A Superior Court judge yesterday ruled against attempts by the Diocese of Worcester to limit questioning of Bishop Daniel P. Reilly in a coming deposition and to prevent the release of transcripts to the media.'' A little later the report said that diocesan attorney James G. Reardon had hoped to prevent plaintiff's attorney Daniel J. Shea "from asking Bishop Reilly about the House of Affirmation, a Whitinsville treatment center for priests with psychological problems, including sexual problems.'' (The facility was open from 1970 to 1989.)

The same event was covered in Thursday's edition of the diocesan weekly newspaper, The Catholic Free Press. That account quoted the judge as saying, "I am granting the protective order as to Bishop Reilly.'' In striking contrast to the T&G report, the Free Press's lead sentence quoted the judge as limiting questioning of Bishop Reilly about the House of Affirmation "to the nature of (his) personal involvement with the treatment facility.'' The Free Press went on, "The court order says that otherwise, the request for a protective order of Bishop Reilly was allowed.''

So, let's see: did the ruling, as the T&G headline claimed, "go against'' the diocese, or did the judge "grant the protective order to Bishop Reilly''? The issue argued by the lawyers was whether happenings at the House of Affirmation had any relevance to the case at hand, which involves allegations dating from the early 1960s against Bishop George E. Rueger. Both newspapers agree that the judge limited her protective order with respect to the House of Affirmation, but they seem to have interpreted her differently.

As the Telegram and Gazette reported it, "Judge Rup said she was skeptical that questions about the House of Affirmation would be relevant. But she said if either bishop admitted to any involvement with it, the questioning would be allowed. Bishop Reilly once served on its board of directors.'' Well, then, it would seem to be settled. Serving on the institution's board would surely qualify as "involvement'' with the House of Affirmation, and once that's established Mr. Shea will be able to get on with what he calls his "conspiracy case.''

But maybe not. The Free Press quotes Mr. Reardon as contradicting the T&G story. "It was wrong in the paper,'' the Free Press quotes Mr. Reardon as saying. "The judge said the House of Affirmation was not relevant and Shea can ask what the bishop knows about it, but not any specifics about other priests or information that may be privileged. The judge limited the questioning to general knowledge.''

What the judge said, according to the Free Press, was "I simply have not been persuaded, at this point, ... that generalized inquiry of the House of Affirmation is in any way discoverable or relevant.'' The diocesan paper reported that the judge "said that the House of Affirmation didn't appear to have any connection to this particular plaintiff's allegation'' and that she later said to Mr. Shea, "You may inquire generally what his official position was.''

So what we seem to have is two newspapers covering the same event and coming to different conclusions about what happened. The Telegram & Gazette reporter thought he heard the judge say that any admission of involvement with the House of Affirmation would open the floodgates, while the Free Press reporter heard her say questions about the House of Affirmation could not go beyond "the nature of Bishop Reilly's personal involvement with the institution.'' That seems to imply that once Bishop Reilly has described what he did as a member of the board, the House of Affirmation will be off limits.

It should be added that the judge did turn down a motion by Mr. Reardon to delay the discovery phase of the suit until the court rules on a diocesan motion for dismissal. She also would not forbid the release of transcripts of the depositions to the media, though, according to The Catholic Free Press, she warned the lawyers against releasing portions of transcripts and reminded them "that they have ethical obligations with regard to comment on pending matters.''

The deposition of Bishop Reilly was scheduled for this week, so the effect of the judge's ruling will soon be tested, or may already have been tested by the time this column appears. One way or the other, the larger issues of sexual abuse by priests and the responsibility of diocesan officials will continue to be explored in a variety of ways, including lawsuits.

It would not be fair or reasonable to pass judgment on the reporters who wrote these two articles, but their differing interpretations of the same event can serve as a reminder to all of us that in these matters, as in many others, we all have a point of view, a set of attitudes that is operating even before we try to make sense of new evidence. As we respond, we run the danger of seeing what we prefer to hear, and believing what we prefer to believe.

We need to be on guard against those temptations, because what they cause us to miss might just be the truth.

Kenneth J. Moynihan's column appears regularly in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

 
 

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