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Cardinal Law, in Lawsuit, Faults Child and Parents in Abuse Case

Boston Cardinal Bernard Law is defending himself against a Church sex-abuse lawsuit by claiming that a boy and his parents were partially responsible for the child's alleged abuse at the hands of a priest.

Gregory Ford, now 24, and his parents have filed suit against Law for the case of the Rev. Paul Shanley, who allegedly began abusing Ford in 1983, when he was 6 years old.

"The negligence of the Plaintiffs contributed to cause the injury or damage," Law's legal response to the lawsuit said.

Any damages assessed against Law "should be reduced in proportion to the said negligence of the Plaintiffs," the cardinal's response continued. 

The Fords' lawyer, Roderick MacLeish Jr., said he found the cardinal's claim "appalling."

"There is no set of circumstances under which a 6-year-old child could be blamed for something like this," MacLeish told The Boston Globe, which first reported the documents.

Church records show that Cardinal Law and his predecessor, Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros, knew that Shanley supported sexual relations between men and boys. Archdiocese records also indicate that Shanley was involved with the a meeting that led to the formation of the North American Man-Boy Love Association, and that Shanley allegedly molested teenage boys in 1966.

In another development Monday, the Brooklyn Diocese became the first in the New York area to agree to forward all child-abuse allegations to prosecutors without first screening them.

The move was the second major policy shift for Bishop Thomas Daily, who initially said he did not plan to give prosecutors the names of Brooklyn priests accused of abuse. The diocese serves 1.6 million Catholics in the Queens and Brooklyn boroughs of the city.

Daily has emerged as a key figure in the case of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, who was accused of molesting more than 130 children in the Boston archdiocese and is serving a nine- to 10-year prison sentence for abuse. Daily has acknowledged that he never informed law enforcement authorities about Geoghan and that when he transferred him to another parish, he did not recall telling the parish's pastor about the complaints against Geoghan. 

Daily said in March that he regretted some decisions he made during his tenure in Boston, which lasted from 1973 to 1984.

Despite the Ford suit and increasing calls for his resignation, Law told parishioners on Sunday that he has instituted a "zero tolerance" policy toward priests accused of sex abuse. Twelve archdiocese priests have been suspended since January following allegations of abuse.

Law also said during Mass at Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross that the nation's bishops will discuss a binding sexual abuse policy at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' general meeting in Dallas beginning June 13. For now, each diocese is autonomous and decides its own approach to molestation claims.

During the short statement, Law did not address calls for his resignation.

"These are not easy days to serve in the pastoral role that is mine," Law said. "All of us are wounded healers," he said. "And when we remember that, we are able to be the people that we should be. ... When we are not that, we degenerate into anger and division. And that's not who we are. That's not who God calls us to be."

Law also called for a special day of prayer about the sexual abuse crisis, to be held during the Pentecost celebrations, which start May 10. Through a spokeswoman, he has denied rumors that he is to be transferred to Rome.

Though protesters and the media that thronged the church seemed less than friendly, Law had the support of at least one person present.

"They don't see the good side of Cardinal Law," said Brother James Curren of the Little Brothers of St. Francis in Roxbury, a Catholic order. "A lot of people have made mistakes in judgment. No one defends the priests who committed sins."

But the disarray caused by the nationwide scandal has reached to the very top of the American Roman Catholic Church.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington said he supported ousting any priest accused in the future but said the cardinals were divided about whether the policies should apply to past allegations.

But Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who appeared on several shows, said there still needs to be some discussion on the "one-strike-and-you're-out" approach. On NBC's Meet the Press, he said "mandated sentences" may not be the answer and that cardinals needed some discretion.

The sex abuse scandal began enveloping the church in January after revelations that the Archdiocese of Boston had shuttled now-defrocked priest John Geoghan from parish to parish despite repeated allegations that he was a pedophile.

In other developments:

— A priest in Tampa, Fla., was suspended while diocesan officials investigate two allegations of sexual misconduct by the priest 14 years ago. The Rev. Robert Morris, pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church, denied the accusations.

— In Alma, Mich., a priest resigned a week after admitting to members of two parishes that he engaged in "inappropriate sexual behavior" more than 16 years ago. Also, the Diocese of Grand Rapids announced that a priest resigned after accusations of inappropriate sexual contact with a teen 23 years ago.

— In Ohio, a 61-year-old priest resigned after Cincinnati Archdiocese officials confronted him with a report that he sexually abused a minor several years ago.

— In California, four Roman Catholic priests from the San Bernardino Diocese left their parishes over the weekend amid allegations they molested children. The Los Angeles Archdiocese also turned over to police the name of a 69-year-old priest forced to retire earlier this year because of allegations he molested four boys in the 1960s and 1970s.

— The Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, relieved a priest of his duties over an allegation of sexual misconduct that happened about 30 years ago. The priest admitted inappropriate behavior when confronted, said James Barta, vicar general for the archdiocese.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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