- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2002

BOSTON (AP) Cardinal Bernard Law's open letter detailing what and when he knew of accusations against a homosexual priest accused of raping boys marks a big shift from his previous silence. It could also place Cardinal Law in an awkward legal position.

The letter released over the weekend emphatically denied any knowledge of accusations against the Rev. Paul Shanley before 1993. It was released just two weeks before Cardinal Law is scheduled to answer questions under oath in a civil case filed by one of Father Shanley's accusers.

Documents released in the case including a 1985 letter apparently viewed by Cardinal Law describing Father Shanley's views on sex between men and boys indicate that while Cardinal Law's missive may indicate a renewed openness, he could also now be open to new legal problems.

"I feel now we're in a very good position to depose him," said Courtney Pillsbury, an attorney for the plaintiff.

J. Owen Todd, Cardinal Law's attorney, said he was not involved in preparing the letter and said it probably ran "counter to a legal strategy."

But he said the letter was part of Cardinal Law's role as a spiritual leader.

"He must primarily address his constituency, the Roman Catholics, and explain himself and the situation to them first and foremost," Mr. Todd said.

In the letter, sent to Boston Archdiocese parishes and released to the media late Sunday, Cardinal Law bemoaned the fact the sexual-abuse cases were "being tried in the press rather than being more appropriately tried later in court."

More than 1,600 pages of church documents have been released in the lawsuit brought by Gregory Ford, 24, who claims he was repeatedly raped as a child by Father Shanley. The lawsuit charges Cardinal Law and other church officials with negligence in failing to protect him.

Father Shanley faces criminal charges of raping another boy in the same parish.

The documents in Mr. Ford's civil lawsuit have included accusations of sex abuse dating back to 1966 and reports of Father Shanley's advocacy of sex between men and boys dating back to 1979.

"Before God I assure you that my first knowledge of an allegation of sexual abuse against this priest was in 1993," Cardinal Law wrote in the letter.

Cardinal Law said he then rescinded Shanley's authorization to be a parish priest in San Bernardino, Calif.

The release of the letter was an unusual move for Cardinal Law, who has become isolated during the months-long crisis and has resisted numerous calls for his resignation as well as constant pickets of his Masses.

Seth Taube, a Miami lawyer who has defended Catholic orders in abuse cases, called the letter an act of courage.

"There is always the risk that the testimony could be at slight variance to what is said in the letter," Mr. Taube cautioned. "Discrepancies suggest credibility issues."

With so many documents in the public domain and so much attention given to the accusations, it's important for the church get out its own facts, Mr. Taube said.

While the letter may help Cardinal Law win back some public support, some say the openness came far too late.

"What Law has been abysmally bad at is if you will constituent relations," said Patrick Schiltz, dean of St. Thomas School of Law in Philadelphia and a former defense lawyer who represented dioceses in sex-abuse cases.

In other developments:

•Clergy at the funeral of a Bridgeport, Conn., priest who committed suicide after being accused of sexually abusing children prayed that the Rev. Alfred Bietighofer, 64, would be remembered for the good he had done. They also prayed for the healing of all abuse victims.

cLos Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony was sued again under a federal racketeering law primarily used against mob figures. The latest suit accuses Cardinal Mahony of protecting a child-molesting priest who spent more than a dozen years in the nation's largest archdiocese. Cardinal Mahony called the lawsuit claims "baseless and irresponsible."

•A priest on the Hawaiian island of Maui was placed on administrative leave over accusations of sexual misconduct that occurred more than 20 years ago. The Catholic Diocese of Hawaii also noted that the complainant is an adult who can pursue the matter with civil authorities.

•A priest accused of having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy was removed from ministry by the Diocese of Evansville, Ind.


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