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  Plaintiffs Pursuing Archbishop Deposition

By Steve Woodward
Oregonian [Portland Oregon]
June 24, 2005

Summary: William Levada, a Roman Catholic authority on clergy sex abuse, led the Archdiocese of Portland from 1986 to 1995 Clergy sexual-abuse plaintiffs in Oregon are seeking out Portland's former archbishop, William J. Levada, to testify about one of the most heated issues in many abuse claims against the Archdiocese of Portland: Who knew what, and when did they know it? The plaintiffs, in a motion filed this week, asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris for permission to take the deposition of Levada, who last month was appointed to what the Vatican describes as the third-most powerful position in the Roman Catholic Church. For at least 20 years, Levada has been one of the church's most knowledgeable authorities on sex-abuse policies.

"It's like taking the Secretary of Defense's deposition about defense," said John Manly, a California plaintiff's lawyer who also is seeking Levada's deposition. "He is perhaps the most important person in the world on this issue."

Portland lawyer Erin K. Olson, who filed the motion on behalf of several clients, said she wanted to take Levada's deposition before he leaves for the Vatican. She wants to question Levada about the Portland archdiocese's internal handling of abuse of minors by priests.

The archdiocese, which last July became the first U.S. diocese to file for bankruptcy in the wake of rising sex-abuse claims, is cooperating in trying to schedule a deposition.

"The archdiocese does not have an objection to the deposition of Archbishop Levada, and we've been working on the logistics of trying to arrange that voluntarily without a subpoena," said Thomas Dulcich, an attorney for the archdiocese.

Until his Vatican appointment, Levada was Archbishop of San Francisco. He could not be reached and officials there declined to comment.

If Levada does not voluntarily agree to the deposition, Olson said she would be forced to serve Levada in California with a subpoena requiring his testimony. If she cannot serve him in California, where, his Web site says, his last day as Archbishop is Aug. 17, she said she might have to work through the Vatican's U.S. ambassador to reach Levada in Rome.

"The diplomatic processes would be very difficult and very expensive," she said.

Patrick Wall, a former priest and Benedictine monk who works with Manly, the California plaintiffs' lawyer in an abuse case unrelated to Oregon, said putting a subpoena directly in Levada's hands, as required, could be difficult.

Since Levada's May 13 appointment as leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faithful, Wall said, the Manly & McGuire law firm has been thwarted in its efforts to serve the archbishop at his office, at Masses and at weddings, among other venues. His subordinates say either that they don't know where he is or that he cannot be served because of his new status at the Vatican.

"They put their hands up in front of the process servers and said he's now Emeritus (Archbishop)," Wall said.

Levada's expertise Olson's motion lays out Levada's qualifications for testifying on the church's response to clergy sex abuse. For six years, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Levada served as an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles disciplinary action against child molesters, among other duties.

In 1985, as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, he was assigned to review a report "warning the U.S. bishops of the severity of the clergy sex abuse crisis and proposing a manner of responsibly responding to the crisis," according to the motion.

In 2002, Levada was appointed to an eight-member commission of U.S. bishops and Vatican representatives who finalized rules for dealing with sexual abuse of minors by priests and deacons.

From 1986 to 1995, when Levada was Archbishop of Portland, the motion states that "numerous complaints were made of sexual abuse by priests in Archdiocesan ministries."

During that time, according to the motion, the archdiocese received complaints about six priests: Maurice Grammond, Joseph Baccellieri, Gary Jacobson, Anthony Smith, Gerald McCray and John Goodrich. "Several of these priests were allowed to remain in, or were returned to, active ministry by Levada," the motion states.

Newspaper accounts from that period, however, show that only Baccellieri was returned to active ministry by Levada. Baccellieri, one of a handful of accused priests still living, was placed on leave after accusations came to light in 1992. After two years of counseling, he returned to serve in four parishes, retiring in 2002 because of a new national church policy prohibiting accused priests from serving in active ministries.

The motion to depose Dulcich called into question the need and timing of Olson's motion.

A January bankruptcy court order allowed the plaintiff to question up to four people about the archdiocese's handling of sex abuse complaints. Levada is the first name plaintiffs have brought forward.

"Because Miss Olson's clients have filed claims that arose 30 years ago when they were in MacLaren (Youth Correctional Facility)," Dulcich said, "we wonder if this motion isn't being used as a media tool to advance some other agenda.

"Nothing in this motion affects the key issue, which is what, if anything, happened to these clients 30 years ago. Archbishop Levada didn't come to Portland until 1986 . . . years after the fact."

Olson said she filed the motion as a precaution, because federal court rules protect a witness from having to be deposed more than once in a case. Levada was already deposed in April last year in three related cases involving the late Grammond, who had been accused of abusing more than 50 boys. Because those cases have since been brought into the bankruptcy, another deposition might require a judge's OK, she said.

Olson's motion says that during Levada's deposition last year, the archbishop declined to answer at least 23 times, including any questions about priests other than Grammond.

He cited four grounds for his refusals. First, he said, the answers were beyond the scope of the cases. Second, the questions called for Levada's expert opinion on religious aspects of the Roman Catholic faith. Third, answering would violate an oath he took while assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Fourth, answers were privileged as matters of internal church governance.

 
 

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