May 19, 2002

BOSTON (AP) - Cardinal Bernard Law said in a letter distributed to parishes Sunday that he did not become aware until 1993 of sexual abuse allegations against the Rev. Paul Shanley, who is facing criminal charges of molesting boys.

Immediately afterward, Law said Shanley's authorization to serve as a priest was rescinded.

Law's letter follows the release of records Tuesday from the archdiocese's file on Shanley. The records had been sought by the family of Gregory Ford, 24, who claims in a lawsuit that Shanley repeatedly raped him when he was a boy. Ford has sued Law, accusing the cardinal of negligence in failing to protect him from Shanley, now 71 and retired.

Records released earlier this year showed the archdiocese knew of abuse claims against Shanley as far back as 1967 and that he had spoken out in favor of sex between men and boys, but did little more than transfer him from parish to parish. Law did not arrive in Boston until years later.

``When I arrived in Boston in 1984, I assumed that priests in place had been appropriately appointed,'' Law said in the three-page letter. ``It did not enter into my mind to second-guess my predecessors, and it simply was not in the culture of the day to function otherwise.''

``Despite the quantity of documents released and statements on the part of some indicating they know otherwise, before God I assure you that my first knowledge of an allegation of sexual abuse against this priest was in 1993. It was immediately acted upon, and the authorization for him to serve as a priest in California was rescinded.''

Law has been under pressure to resign over the archdiocese's handling of priests accused of sexual misconduct, but has said he does not intend to step down.

Shanley served a parish in Newton from 1983 to 1990, then moved to California with a recommendation from the archdiocese. This month, he was extradited to Massachusetts to face charges he raped a boy over a six-year period in the 1980s, including in a church confessional.

Shanley has pleaded innocent to three criminal charges of child rape.

In the letter, Law said that when Shanley left Boston in 1990, it was at his own request for sick leave. ``The attestation that he was a priest in good standing at the time was in accord with the facts as I knew them,'' Law wrote.

The cardinal added that he was not aware of allegations against Shanley dating to the 1960s until a few months ago. The archdiocese faces civil suits alleging it knew of those allegations before it assigned Shanley to the Newton parish.

He also said that he does not remember a Newton woman telling him after a Mass in 1984 that Shanley had molested a child.

Calls to Roderick MacLeish, an attorney representing Shanley's alleged victims, were not immediately returned Sunday.

Law again apologized for past errors in judgment, saying there was never an intent to put children at risk. He outlined changes made by the archdiocese to forward allegations to police and prosecutors and assure that no priest facing a credible allegation would remain in active ministry.

``The scandalous and painful details which have emerged sear our hearts,'' he wrote. ``The harm done to victims and their families is overwhelming. Bewilderment has given rise to anger and mistrust.''

Law added that his credibility has been questioned and he has become for some ``an object of contempt.''

Some of Law's statements echoed ones he made Sunday as part of his homily during Mass at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, in which he called for unity, peace and forgiveness.

Outside the cathedral, about two dozen protesters continued to call for Law to resign. Some booed as Law walked to his car.

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