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Cardinal Says Family at Fault in Priest Abuse

Scandal: Boston prelate law asserts that 6-year-old boy and his parents were negligent in molestation case. Their suit claims archdiocese didn't protect youngster.

April 30, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — Cardinal Bernard Law, firing back in an increasingly contentious clerical sexual scandal, has declared in court papers that unspecified "negligence" of a then-6-year-old boy and his parents contributed to the alleged abuse.

The nation's longest-serving Catholic prelate made the assertion in response to a lawsuit filed against him and the archdiocese by Gregory Ford and his parents. Now 24, Ford claims he was molested for six years by Father Paul Shanley, a priest in the Boston archdiocese.

Law is scheduled to be deposed June 5 in the Fords' civil suit, which charges that the cardinal and the archdiocese failed to protect young Gregory.

More than 1,600 pages of documents turned over by the archdiocese have produced sordid allegations against Shanley, who was reassigned by Law to a parish in Southern California in the early 1990s.

Shanley, now 71, recently was let go from his volunteer job with the San Diego police department. Although his whereabouts have been unknown, a lawyer for the Fords said he expected Shanley to be deposed as scheduled Thursday. MacLeish would not say where the deposition will take place.

"I think we have located him," Roderick MacLeish Jr. said Monday.

Calls to the Rogers Law Firm, which represents the cardinal, and to the archdiocese went unreturned.

In addition to asserting that the Ford family's negligence contributed to alleged abuse by Shanley, a document filed by the firm on Law's behalf said that any damages awarded should be proportionately reduced.

The cardinal's six-page response to the Fords' complaint was filed in Middlesex Superior Court earlier this month. It was first reported publicly in Monday's Boston Globe, which has aggressively pursued the clerical sexual abuse scandal here.

At a press conference Monday, MacLeish blasted the cardinal's claim as "appalling. What is the conceivable evidence to support the idea that Ford [and his parents] were somehow responsible for what Paul Shanley did to them?"

MacLeish said he saw a "common theme" in the church's response: "One, blame the priests. Two, blame the victims. Three, gag the lawyers. Four, don't turn over documents--and when you do, turn them over in incomplete portions."

He also called the latest action by the archdiocese "bad legal strategy," because anything contained in the new filing can be questioned at the cardinal's deposition.

MacLeish said he would be in court Wednesday to try to force the church to turn over records of Shanley's psychiatric evaluations.

Rodney Ford, Gregory's father, said Monday that the motion filed by the cardinal was hard for his son to stomach.

Celebrating Mass on Sunday, Law said: "These are not easy days to serve in the pastoral role that is mine. All of us are wounded healers. And when we remember that, we are able to be the people that we should be.... When we are not that, we degenerate into anger and division. And that's not who we are. That's not who God calls us to be."

The sexual abuse scandal hit the U.S. Roman Catholic church in January, with disclosures that the Boston archdiocese moved now-defrocked priest John Geoghan from parish to parish despite repeated allegations that he was a pedophile.

Geoghan is serving an eight- to 10-year prison term on one count of child molestation.

In New York on Monday, Cardinal Edward Egan gathered hundreds of priests to discuss the sexual abuse scandal. A similar meeting also was held Monday in the New Hampshire archdiocese.

Allegations of sexual abuse also prompted priests in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, California and Iowa to either resign or be suspended over the weekend.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), speaking Monday at the Boston Latin School, lamented the clerical sexual abuse crisis as "the most tragic circumstance that I have seen in the Catholic church in my lifetime."

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