August 14, 2002

BOSTON--During two grueling days of court depositions in June, Cardinal Bernard Law never conceded he had done anything wrong in handling priests who had sexually abused children.

Law, in the transcripts and videotape released Tuesday, said he regretted some of his decisions. But he said he didn't understand the best way to handle sexual abuse cases until recently.

''I wish to God it was possible . . . to go back in time, but it isn't,'' he testified. ''You can't inject into the past knowledge and insight that you have in the present.''

Law's deposition provides his most revealing explanation of his actions so far. His testimony is part of a civil lawsuit against Law and the Boston Archdiocese related to alleged sexual abuse by the Rev. Paul Shanley.

The testimony was released as lawyers continued taking his deposition Tuesday in one of the sexual misconduct cases that have rocked the Roman Catholic church.

The scandal prompted the nation's bishops to pass a zero-tolerance policy in June that would bar all priests and deacons who sexually abuse minors.

In his deposition, the cardinal sometimes held his superiors responsible for decisions on personnel matters, yet he said that when he was the man in charge, his aides hadn't alerted him to problems with priests' misconduct.

He said he sometimes relied on medical professionals to decide on the future of priests who had sexually abused children or would follow the wishes of victims' families. But he also conceded his decisions were guided by attempts to avoid scandal in the church.

For instance, Law said he reassigned the Rev. Eugene O'Sullivan from Massachusetts to a New Jersey parish, in part, ''because of the publicity attendant to the case and the possible scandal that can cause.'' O'Sullivan pleaded guilty to raping a child.

Law admitted transferring several sexually abusive priests, and even promoting some of them.

  • He allowed the Rev. Daniel Graham to stay in Quincy, Mass., and subsequently promoted him to vicar even though Graham had admitted sexually molesting children there.

  • He said he knew the Rev. Leonard Chambers had been involved in ''gravely sinful'' activities, but reassigned him anyway--and didn't tell his superiors about his misconduct.
  • Law said that when he was working as a vicar general in a diocese in Jackson, Miss., the Rev. George Broussard admitted he'd had sexually inappropriate conduct with children, but Law took no action. He said it was the bishop's responsibility to take action. Law said he did not remember whether he had ever told the bishop about Broussard's misconduct.
  • After Law was promoted to one of 12 U.S. cardinals, he transferred the Rev. Paul Shanley to a parish in the Boston suburb of Newton, even though there had been complaints about Shanley's alleged sexual behavior.
  • He conceded he had never looked at records in Shanley's files that detailed allegations against him. Shanley is awaiting trial on charges of sexually abusing children.

    In all, more than 200 of 368 Massachusetts parishes had been overseen by clergy with substantial sexual abuse allegations against them, Law testified. There were 85 priests involved, and 70 are still alive, he said. Most had worked in an average of three different parishes.

    Law said the church's policy in 1993 did not require parishioners to be informed about sexual abuse that had taken place in their church. He said that policy was wrong. In addition, he said, there was no policy in place to review confidential files of a priest before promotion.

    Now, priests accused of sexual abuse can't be assigned to a parish, he said. Six priests have been removed from parishes this year.

    Law said new church policy dictates that Roman Catholic leaders go to every church where an abusive priest served. But so far, because of the volume of sexual misconduct cases, leaders have visited only three parishes.

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