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Catholic Leader Accused of Negligence - 2002-05-08

In Boston, Massachusetts Wednesday one of the most prominent Roman Catholic Church officials in the United States began a court-ordered deposition in a sex abuse scandal that has shocked the nation. In the civil suit, Boston Cardinal Bernard Law is accused of negligence in his supervision of a pedophile priest.

Cardinal Law answered questions under oath for the first time since the sex abuse scandal hit the Roman Catholic Church in Boston, later spreading throughout the United States.

The Boston Cardinal acknowledged that in the past, there was no written policy on how to handle allegations of molestation. He said he relied on the advice of doctors and subordinates when he approved the transfer of a priest accused of sexually abusing children from one parish to another.

That priest, now defrocked, John Geoghan, is serving a prison sentence for raping a young boy. Last week, the Archdiocese of Boston backed out of a financially crippling, multi-million dollar settlement with 86 victims who accuse Mr. Geoghan of sexual abuse.

Thomas Groome is a professor of religion at Boston College, a private institution run by the Roman Catholic Church. Professor Groome said, "I think it's a sad day for the Church, to see the Cardinal brought into court. I think the unfolding story continues to break our hearts - to give us a sense of embarrassment, of betrayal, of even shame before our neighbors in faith. I think it's dreadfully painful for us."

The Geoghan case helped trigger a crisis across the nation surrounding the repeated transfer of accused priests, who were not turned in to authorities by their superiors.

The closed-door deposition of Cardinal Law is expected to last several days. A judge ordered the testimony, which has been videotaped, out of concern that the Cardinal will move to the Vatican, avoiding reach of the U.S. legal system.

Since the scandal began, Cardinal Law and many of his counterparts throughout the United States have turned over the names of accused priests to prosecutors, and several court proceedings are underway. Last month, they were called to the Vatican to discuss the crisis with the Pope.

Many outraged U.S. Catholics have called on Cardinal Law to resign. Professor Groome said the scandal could provide an opportunity to renew faith and review Church policy. "Hopefully," he said, "there will be a systematic renewal of Catholic priesthood. That we will look again at the exclusion of women, the exclusion of married people from the priesthood that helps to create a clerical culture."

Professor Groome says many Catholics believe now is the time to expand the role of lay people in governing the Church.