Grand Jurors Interrogate Cardinal Law

The New York Times, Feb. 26, 2003

BOSTON, Feb. 25 — Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who resigned as archbishop of Boston last December, was questioned today by a criminal grand jury that is trying to decide whether to indict him or other Boston church officials for their handling of clergy members accused of sexual abuse.

It is the first time a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church has been forced to testify before a grand jury since the abuse scandal broke into the open a year ago, church and law enforcement officials said.

“It is a historic and extraordinary moment, with a prince of the church coming in to answer questions from ordinary citizens investigating crimes committed by the church hierarchy,” said Jeffrey R. Anderson, a lawyer in Minnesota who has represented more than 700 people nationwide suing the Catholic church for sexual abuse by priests.

As an indication of the sensitivity of the situation, Cardinal Law testified in a room inside the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly to minimize publicity. Cardinal Law, not long ago the most powerful Catholic prelate in the nation, testified for more than eight hours and left without making a statement to reporters.

His lawyer, J. Owen Todd, said the cardinal was “not embarrassed” by what Mr. Todd described as an unprecedented situation. “I would say that the situation has developed to where it’s necessary for the cardinal and the grand jury to have to investigate what happened,” Mr. Todd said.

He said he did not expect the grand jury to indict Cardinal Law. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near concerned about that,” he said.

Mr. Reilly, also a Roman Catholic in this heavily Catholic state, impaneled the grand jury three months ago after he accused the church leadership in Boston of a cover-up that resulted in “countless” children being harmed as priests accused of sexual abuse were protected and moved from parish to parish.

Cardinal Law has given depositions in several civil lawsuits growing out of the scandal.

But even after the cardinal’s testimony today and earlier appearances by six other current or former Boston bishops, it is unclear whether the grand jury will indict individual church leaders, the church itself or will simply issue a report on findings.

Mr. Reilly declined to comment on today’s appearance by Cardinal Law, saying the criminal investigation was continuing.

But law enforcement officials involved in the case say Cardinal Law and other church leaders may not face indictment because of legal difficulties bringing potential criminal charges against them. Until 2002, Massachusetts did not have a law requiring the clergy to report accusations of sexual abuse to law enforcement officials. It also lacked a law prohibiting endangerment of children. Moreover, most of the cases of priests accused of abusing children occurred years ago, before the early 1990’s, putting them outside the statute of limitations.

As a result, the officials say, a more likely option is for the grand jury or Mr. Reilly to issue a report outlining the evidence uncovered by the investigation.

This was the outcome of a grand jury that investigated similar accusations in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, on Long Island, for nine months. The grand jury said it was unable to file indictments because of New York’s five-year statute of limitations. But it did issue a 180-page report strongly critical of the diocese and called for new laws to eliminate time limitations to require that members of the clergy report child abuse directly to the authorities.

A law enforcement official here said the Massachusetts grand jury and Mr. Reilly were still waiting for the grand jury inquiry to be completed and were still weighing their options. “There is still the potential for an indictment,” the official said.

But if the decision is made to issue a report, it will be “the most authoritative account” of what went wrong in the Boston archdiocese, the official said, drawing not only on testimony by Cardinal Law and the other bishops, but also on thousands of pages of church documents that the archdiocese has turned over to the attorney general’s office.

James Post, president of Voice of the Faithful, a lay group formed last year in response to the scandal, said a comprehensive report by the grand jury would be a good result. “From the perspective of Voice of the Faithful, the important thing is disclosure of the facts,” he said. “Sunlight has to be put on these matters.”

He added, “We need to get at the systemic roots of the problem, the secrecy, the clericalism.”

Separately, some lawyers, church scholars, priests and members of Voice of the Faithful have been discussing whether it is possible to set up what one termed a truth and reconciliation process like that used in South Africa after the end of the all-white apartheid government there.

Last December the Manchester diocese, which covers New Hampshire, avoided a possible indictment by the state’s attorney general when Bishop John B. McCormack signed an agreement admitting that prosecutors had uncovered enough evidence to prove the diocese had violated the state’s law against endangering children. The diocese turned over 10,000 pages of internal church records to the New Hampshire attorney general, who will make them public next Monday.

The Massachusetts grand jury has focused on accusations that Cardinal Law and bishops under him knowingly transferred priests charged with sexually abusing children from parish to parish while not warning their new churches of their histories. In some cases, Cardinal Law even wrote glowing letters of commendation for the priests after learning about their abuse of children.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday February 26, 2003.
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