August 2, 2002

BOSTON, Aug 2, 2002 (UPI)--Roman Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law testified Friday for the first time in open court about a collapsed agreement to settle a lawsuit with a group of clergy sex-abuse victims.

Law and the Archdiocese of Boston announced the accord March 12, but backed away from it on May 3 after the church's Finance Council said it was too costly. The pact could have cost the archdiocese up to $30 million. The hearing before Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney is to determine if the agreement is binding even though Law and most other defendants never signed it. The hearing began Thursday and was expected to continue next week.

Law, on the stand for nearly two hours, is believed to be the first U.S. cardinal to testify publicly in court about matters stemming from clergy sexual-abuse lawsuits.

Attorney Michael Garabedian, representing 86 alleged victims of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, contends the signatures of Law and 15 co-defendants were not necessary to make the settlement binding and that the court should order the church to honor it.

Law agreed under questioning that a news release from the archdiocese and an article in the archdiocese newspaper, "The Pilot," referred to a "settlement agreement."

Law said, however, he understood that it was not a finalized agreement.

"I believed this to be a proposed settlement" that would not be effective until signed by the plaintiffs, Law and his co-defendants, all of whom are priests.

While all plaintiffs eventually signed it, only three priests did. Law did not.

Garabedian, however, got Law to admit that he did not use the wording "proposed settlement" in his statement announcing the pact.

The lawyer asked Law why he didn't say the settlement was conditional, if that's what he thought.

"I wish that I had said that," Law said. He said that he understood that in the context in which the statement was issued, "anyone would recognize the fact that this was a proposed settlement" that would not be effective until signed.

Law said the context "clearly points to the fact that signatures were necessary."

In announcing the decision to back from the settlement on May 3, the archdiocese said Finance Council members expressed "grave concern" that the settlement would "consume substantially all of the resources" of the archdiocese.

Under questioning from church attorney Wilson D. Rogers Jr., Law said he didn't sign the agreement out of concern the archdiocese would be "unable to provide a just and proportional response to other victims."

"I couldn't sign it because there wouldn't be the money to pay it," Law said.

Those money concerns apparently played a role in the archdiocese's decision to hire one of Boston's top bankruptcy lawyers, Daniel M. Glosband, the Boston Globe reported Friday.

The paper said the archdiocese is considering bankruptcy if it has to pay out huge amounts of money to settle clergy sexual abuse cases, including those represented by Garabedian.

The archdiocese currently faces more than 400 claims of clergy sexual abuse.

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