On Wednesday, Cardinal Bernard Law answered lawyers' questions in a rare deposition of a high-ranking church leader. The deposition was ordered in a lawsuit filed by 86 people who say Law and the Boston Archdiocese failed to protect youngsters from the Rev. John Geoghan, who has been accused of sexually abusing more than 130 children over three decades.
Law insisted he relied on the advice of doctors and subordinates when he approved Geoghan's transfer from parish to parish.
Mark Keane, one of Geoghan's alleged victims, watched the deposition.
"I found that the cardinal had some selective amnesia," said Keane.
The Archdiocese of Boston backed out of a multi-million dollar settlement with the victims' group last week. With no settlement, the judge ordered the deposition immediately, expressing concern that Law could be called to Rome before he could testify.
Geoghan was convicted in January of groping a boy in a swimming pool and is currently serving nine to 10 years in prison.
Law, who has withstood repeated calls to resign, arrived at the courthouse amid heavy security for the first of several days of testimony.
The deposition was closed to the public but was videotaped and could be used in a trial if Law is not available.
Law's attorney, Wilson Rogers Jr., opened the proceedings by making a standing objection to the deposition, saying "the inquiry into the inner workings of the church was inappropriate."
Under questioning, Law explained that he was both a U.S. citizen and a citizen of the Vatican, of which he is, as a cardinal, technically a "prince." He said he only recently learned of that status.
It had been suggested Law could have diplomatic immunity from civil lawsuits because of his dual citizenship with the Vatican.
William Gordon, an attorney for the plaintiffs, challenged Law about why he approved Geoghan's transfer in 1984, even though he had received letters and other evidence of abuse by Geoghan.
Law said he didn't recall reading letters warning about Geoghan's behavior — including one from his own secretary — and that doctors said Geoghan was not a threat.
"I'm sure that medical assurance was given," Law said. "Whether it was subsequently put in writing and in an earlier form given orally, I cannot say. But I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that this letter would never have been put before me for a signature had we not had the assurance of someone competent to give that assurance that this assignment was safe."
He acknowledged, however, that the archdiocese had no written policy on handling allegations of sexual abuse by priests at the time.
Law also said he did not remember reading a letter from the aunt of seven alleged Geoghan victims in which she expressed disbelief that the church gave Geoghan another chance at a Boston parish.
Nor did he recall a letter from Bishop John D'Arcy warning him that Geoghan was unfit to be reassigned.
The lead plaintiff's lawyer called it "unbelievable" that a man with so much power could remember so little.
"I think he's hiding something, and I think he will continue to try and hide it," said attorney Mitchell Garabedian.
Cardinal Law will resume his deposition on Friday and finish on Monday.
In developments elsewhere related to the church abuse scandal:
The former Rev. Ronald H. Paquin, 59, was ordered held on $100,000 cash bail, although prosecutors had sought to have him held on $1 million, saying he was a flight risk. He was arrested Tuesday at his home in Malden, Mass., on one count of rape of a child under 16. A moving van with some of his furniture was parked outside.
Prosecutors say the rape case involved more than 50 incidents with a boy about 12 years old between January 1990 and January 1992.
The Rev. John P. Hess, 56, entered the guilty plea in federal court. Sentencing was scheduled for July 26. He could face up to five years in prison.