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The Confidential File 

Recently released testimony by Boston Cardinal Bernard Law reveals new details about his working relationship with New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes.

At the chancery of the archdiocese of Boston, hell is locked in a cabinet at the end of a hall.

In "the confidential file" are secret archives of all types of abuse and scandal within the Roman Catholic Church. Among the documents -- spanning half a century -- are anguished allegations of child sex abuse against 85 priests, 70 of whom are alive today.

Embattled Cardinal Bernard F. Law, testifying during a June deposition of a civil suit, confirmed that he has held keys to the locked repository since he arrived in Boston as archbishop in 1984. The confidential file, he testified, has been maintained by the archdiocese at least since he was a seminary student at St. Joseph's Seminary at St. Benedict near Covington, from 1953 to 1955.

When Law arrived in Boston as archbishop in 1984, there were more than 400 religious parishes and approximately 215 schools -- serving tens of thousands of children -- within the archdiocese. By then, Law, who had previously served as a top church deputy in Mississippi (1962-1968) had already been personally involved in at least three cases involving clerical sexual abuse of minors.

However, in his recent deposition, Law testified he had no memory of the nationally publicized case in 1984 of Gilbert Gauthe, a priest in Lafayette accused of sexually molesting some 200 boys. Law also said he did not recall reading a 1985 manual on preventing sexual abuse by priests, which was co-authored by former Gauthe lawyer Ray Mouton and church canon lawyer Rev. Thomas Doyle.

Only a few other church officials have had access to the secret archives of the archdiocese of Boston during Law's tenure. Among them was Law's former second-in-command, Alfred C. Hughes, who is now archbishop of New Orleans.

The secret archives and its guardians are at the heart of dozens of lawsuits that threaten to bankrupt the archdiocese of Boston -- one of the five largest archdioceses in the nation. In separate suits, alleged victims of pedophile priests have accused the church of shielding their tormentors from prosecution by transferring them to other parishes and facilities and by neglecting to retrieve potentially damning documents from the confidential file. At the center of the uproar is Law, one of only 13 American cardinals in the United States (all of whom are appointed by the pope).

Law has resisted repeated calls for his resignation, including an Aug. 17 editorial by The Boston Globe, which compares him to an unethical corporate CEO. The cardinal steadfastly denies allegations of a church cover-up to protect pedophile priests.

"I did not, as a matter of policy, in 1984, '85, '86, '87, '88, '89, '90, '91, '92, '93, '94, '95, '96, '97, '98, '99, 2000, 2001, go to parishes on the occasion of dealing with a priest against whom an allegation of sexual abuse of a child had been made," Law said under questioning by attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr. in the June deposition at Boston.

Law acknowledged during his testimony that "the culture for handling those [child sex abuse] cases ... was wrong." And he admits that he was "unaware of the inadequacy of our record-keeping" during his 17-year administration -- until January, when The Globe published its series on the scandals.

However, Law has insisted he left the disciplining of individual priests to his top subordinates -- including Hughes, who served as Law's chief operation officer and vicar of administration from November 1990 to January 1993.

The cardinal acknowledged in his recent deposition that, although his subordinates and specialists at treatment centers have made recommendations on whether to re-assign abusive priests, he has been the "ultimate authority" who makes the final decision, since 1984. Law has publicly apologized at least four times this year for his role in the crisis. His regrets have been general in nature; he has not dwelled on specifics.

But testimony in the Boston priest abuse cases is resurrecting details that until recently have been confined to the locked cabinet -- details that include Hughes' role. Transcripts of Law's 228-page testimony from the two-day deposition in Boston show for the first time how Law and Hughes worked together in response to a scandal involving a priest.

In 1993, testimony shows, Law was bracing for a public relations nightmare. A Globe reporter was working on a story about Father Eugene M. O'Sullivan, reportedly the first Massachusetts priest convicted of sexual abuse of a child.

Law began planning for a news conference to respond to the allegations in the Globe story, which was expected to appear throughout Boston sometime in the summer of 1993. Law contacted Hughes, who had left Boston roughly six months earlier, to become Bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

In handwritten correspondence on the same sheet of paper, the two church officials discussed points the Cardinal could make at his news conference, testimony shows. "I was setting down on July 16, '93, my recollections in elaborating these points, and Bishop Hughes very appropriately was helping my memory with the facts in his own comments," Law recalled in his recent deposition testimony.

The cardinal -- who believed the Globe had engaged in unbalanced reporting of previous priest abuse cases in 1992 -- had good reason to worry about the upcoming Globe story, records indicate.

In October 1984, shortly after Law arrived in Boston, O'Sullivan pleaded guilty to repeatedly raping an altar boy over a two-year period, beginning when the child was 13. The prosecutor in the criminal case was seeking a three-to-five-year prison term for the priest. But O'Sullivan received no jail time. Instead, he pleaded guilty to a charge of "unlawful sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse" with a male child under 16. The priest was sentenced to five years probation, with certain conditions. O'Sullivan's sentencing judge specifically ordered that he be re-assigned "where he has no contact with young people."

A statement released by the archdiocese after sentencing offered sympathy for the victim and his family. The archdiocese pledged to "cooperate in every way with the judicial decision."

The archdiocese of Boston, with Law's approval, immediately transferred O'Sullivan to a Catholic mental-health institution for priests. In October 1985, less than a year after his sentencing for rape, Law re-assigned O'Sullivan as an archdiocesan priest to the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J.

"The finding was that he could be assigned without risk; that he has responded well to treatment; and the decision was that it would not be good for him to remain [in Boston] because of the publicity attendant to the case and the possible scandal that that can cause," Law testified recently. Moreover, O'Sullivan had family in New Jersey to help support him, Law said.

O'Sullivan served for seven years in four parishes, where his ordinary parish ministry allowed him to continue working with children -- an apparent violation of his probation, Globe reporter James L. Franklin learned. The reporter found no evidence that O'Sullivan molested any children in New Jersey. O'Sullivan was recalled to Boston in July 1992, after an archdiocesan review of the case.

However, pastors at three of the four New Jersey parishes told the newspaper they were never informed of O'Sullivan's rape conviction. Parish officials in Metuchen told the Globe they had no record that church officials in Boston informed them of O'Sullivan's rape conviction or conditions of his probation.

On July 15, 1993, Law exchanged handwritten notes with Hughes, then an auxiliary bishop, about the cardinal's planned news conference. "In 1985, Father O'Sullivan came to me to report allegations and to acknowledge the substance of them," Law wrote to Hughes in 1993, referring to the priest's rape conviction. "This was my first knowledge of this. No previous notes had been received."

Hughes replied in the left-hand margin of the Cardinal's message: "Certain? There were previous reports."

Law's note continued: "[O'Sullivan] was sent for assessment and treatment. On the strength of the results, it was decided he could function without risk with the support of counselors and spiritual direction."

Law's memo further stated that he himself contacted Bishop Theodore McCarrick of the Metuchen Diocese, "reviewed the case and asked if he would consider allowing him to serve."

Law's memo to Hughes further stated that Law's vicar of administration, Bishop Robert Banks, contacted McCarrick for a more extensive interview on the case. But Hughes corrected the cardinal, saying that Banks, then Law's second-in-command, never talked with McCarrick. Law himself discussed the case with McCarrick, Hughes wrote.

In response to Hughes' correction, Law replied: "Absent a written record of my having stated that, I would be loathe to state categorically that I explicitly referred to this in my conversation the Bishop [McCarrick]."

In other words, in 1993, Law could not recall contacting McCarrick seven years earlier concerning the transfer to New Jersey of a priest convicted of rape and banned by a court from working with children.

On July 16, 1993, the Globe ran reporter Franklin's story under the headline: "Guilty of Rape, Priest Got Church Post in N.J." Franklin recounted that O'Sullivan's seven-year ministry in New Jersey included "religious education programs for children and a youth group." The story delved into what the archdiocese of Boston communicated -- or did not communicate -- to the diocese in New Jersey.

Metuchen officials said they had no record of being informed about O'Sullivan's conviction or probation conditions. A spokesman for the Boston archdiocese told the Globe that McCarrick had been advised "of the nature of the case" but that there was no record of the communication.

The Globe noted: "Such clergy transfers are always approved by the top officials of the sending and receiving dioceses, then Cardinal Bernard F. Law, archbishop of Boston, and Bishop McCarrick of Metuchen." However, the report stated that McCarrick, "who has since been elevated to archbishop of Newark" could not be reached for comment.

The Globe story also quoted the personnel officer for the Metuchen Diocese, the Rev. Charles O'Connor, as saying: "I feel we should have been given much more information." And in an almost 10-year-old statement that now appears chillingly ominous, John Walsh, spokesman for Law and the archdiocese of Boston, told the Globe that church officials "have learned by very painful experience that we have to be much more vigorous and vigilant in the handling of abuse cases and complaints."

Walsh continued, "That is why we had the very extensive review of past files and why we undertook of a much more comprehensive set of procedures, which includes creation of a review board to look at all complaints and how they are disposed of."

The Globe story did not explode into national news.

In fact, the 1993 story was buried on page 19 of the paper's "Metro" section. Also, the reporter did not have access to earlier allegations of sexual misconduct against O'Sullivan. Those were kept in the confidential file, in the Boston archdiocese's locked cabinet.

In 1964, Cardinal Richard Cushing received a report that O'Sullivan had molested a 12-year-old altar boy, "his 13-year-old brother and several other boys." At the June deposition, attorney Roderick MacLeish grilled Cardinal Law about the unpublished molestation report:

Q: Have you ever seen this document before?

A: I have not.

Q. Do you know whether this ... information in any way was transmitted to Bishop McCarrick down in New Jersey?

A: I do not know that.

Law says the incident pre-dated his administration by two predecessors. But MacLeish replied that his law firm obtained the document (presumably by subpoena) from the archdiocesan files.

Q: You know that records relating to sexual molestation and scandal are sometimes kept in a file that might be referred to as the confidential file or the secret archive?

A: Yes.

Q: And you had access to the secret archive in 1984; is that correct?

A: That's correct.

Q: Did you look in the secret archive in 1984 or tell anyone to look in the secret archive in 1984 to see if there were other allegations about Father O'Sullivan before you sent this man convicted of rape in 1984 to the Diocese of Metuchen in 1985?

A: No.

Law acknowledged that he had no policy in place requiring examination of the confidential file before O'Sullivan or any other priest was transferred to a mental health facility. Nor did Law instruct his subordinates to check the secret archives. However, the cardinal added: "But it would have been very logical that the persons immediately responsible for reviewing and helping me in these cases would look for all pertinent material."

MacLeish continued his questioning.

Q: Are you in any way blaming any of the individuals that work for you for not doing an adequate enough job --

A: I am not.

Q: -- in any of these cases?

A: I am not.

Roderick next turned to Law's correspondence with Hughes, honing in on the note reminding the cardinal of "previous reports" of allegations against O'Sullivan. He asked Law if he looked at O'Sullivan's criminal case file before sending the convicted priest to New Jersey.

A: I did not look at the case file. I would have had the substance of it reviewed with me by Bishop Hughes or Bishop Banks.

Q: Would that have included ... the confidential file, which might contain allegations of prior sexual abuse? ...

A. No. ...

In Boston, cases remain unsettled as Law clings to power. The archdiocese faces financial ruin; the number of children harmed by priests is not yet known.

Q: Now, Cardinal Law ... has the archdiocese of Boston ... made any calculations as to the number of victims of sexual abuse that [have occurred] since you became archbishop in 1984?

A: I don't know whether that has been done or not.

Q: Do you know whether that figure is in the thousands?

A: I don't know what the figure is.

Q: Well, have you ever thought that it would be important to find out how many there are and what should be done?

A: Absolutely. And we are in the process of trying to be as complete as we can in knowing who the victims are and how best we can respond to them.

In New Orleans, Hughes spokesperson Father William Maestri told Gambit Weekly that Hughes would have no comment on Cardinal Law's testimony because such responses would be "inappropriate."

MacLeish was in New York last week and could not be reached for comment. Sources in Boston say the lawyer would not likely indicate to a reporter whether or not Hughes will be subpoenaed to testify and answer any lingering questions about O'Sullivan's confidential file. Hughes has previously answered attorneys' questions about the Boston secret archives in a separate civil case. And shortly after his Jan. 3 inauguration as archbishop of New Orleans, Hughes testified for the prosecution at the Boston criminal trial of Geoghan.

In Jan. 30 editions of The Clarion Herald, the bi-weekly newspaper of the archdiocese of New Orleans, Hughes admitted he failed to adequately monitor the treatment regimen of now-defrocked Father John J. Geoghan, who is serving a 10-year sentence for sex crimes against children. "The continued acceptance of John Geoghan for priestly assignment was a tragic error," Hughes said earlier this year. "My predecessors and I thought we were addressing the issues at hand and providing for the appropriate protection of the potential victims. We had no idea of the extent of his abuse of children."

In fact, a Gambit Weekly review of Hughes' testimony in the deposition of a civil suit against Geoghan showed that Hughes never checked the confidential file on the troubled priest ("Deposing the Archbishop," May 21, 2002).

Today, calls to a New Orleans hotline for reporting priest abuse, established June 3, have dropped to an average of two daily --down from a maximum of 10 calls a day. "There is some consideration to not having the hotline staffed from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday, but to keeping the phone line operational," Maestri says. "But as of now it is staffed."

"We have had approximately 85 calls since June 3," Maestri says. "Twenty people have requested interviews. Of those, 15 interviews have been completed; the priests involved are deceased, retired or removed from ministry. The five remaining cases will be finished in August."

After review by social workers, trained psychologists and counselors, a priest named in an allegation is then contacted for an interview. The case is then delivered to "appropriate archdiocesan officials" -- including Hughes and Vicar General Monsignor Roger Morin. The next step is submission to an "independent review board" chaired by former state Attorney General William Guste for analysis. If deemed a credible allegation involving a minor who is still a minor, the case is turned over to New Orleans police.

Maestri says people with allegations are also advised they may report to the police at any time, without involving church officials. "We will indicate that they can break any [prior] confidentiality agreement at any time," Maestri says. New Orleans police spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo says police have received no new complaints of priest abuse.

Archbishop Hughes has removed from ministry eight priests and two deacons accused of abusing children since February. According to Maestri, as of Aug. 19, the archdiocese has since 1980 paid $875,000 in judgements: $420,000 for pastoral, medical and psychiatric assistance; $135,000 for archdiocesan negligence for harm done to minors. Church insurance carries have paid $320,000 to minor claimants.

Maestri says there is no indication the crisis has impacted church collection plates in New Orleans.

"It has been business as usual," Maestri says. "We have had no indication from any one of our 141 parishes that they are in financial difficulty (because of the scandals)." Promulgated figures will be published in October issues of The Clarion Herald.

"No one has indicated any decline in church attendance and there has been no noticeable decline reported by pastors in attendance at various devotionals, holy hours and the like," Maestri says. "Some have indicated attendance has slightly increased. More and more parishioners are praying more for priests to remain faithful."

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