BOSTON – A judge Monday ordered Cardinal Bernard Law to give a deposition on Wednesday in the civil lawsuit against John Geoghan, the now-defrocked priest accused of molesting scores of youngsters.
Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney expressed concern that Law could leave the country before answering questions under oath in a deposition.
"His choice of whether he is available for deposition is not entirely belonging to him," she said. "If the pope tells him to go to Rome, he goes."
Law had avoided being deposed in the sex abuse scandal, though he was scheduled to be deposed June 5 in other cases involving Rev. Paul Shanley.
Sweeney denied a request by the archdiocese for a seven-day notice before the deposition, as is customary.
The quick deposition is unusual, and shows concern that the Vatican could move Law to Rome to avoid the deposition, said Paul Martinek, editor of Lawyers Weekly USA.
"I think the court is obviously cognizant of what's going on and that if he's not deposed now he might not be available," he said.
Plaintiffs' attorney Mitchell Garabedian quoted media reports that Law will be reassigned to Rome, which the archdiocese has denied.
Attorneys for the archdiocese declined to comment as they left the courtroom and did not say whether they would appeal.
Sweeney ordered the deposition videotaped in a closed courtroom, so it could stand as testimony if Law is not available for a trial.
At that time, the tape could be made public, and Sweeney left open the possibility that a transcript could be released. Otherwise, she ordered the deposition to remain confidential.
Sweeney also denied a request by Garabedian that Law be required to post a $10 million bond if he leaves the state.
Garabedian said he was pleased with the ruling, and was eager to start questioning Law about Geoghan.
"I want to know what he knew," Garabedian said. "I want to know why in 1984 he did nothing to prevent John Geoghan from molesting more children."
Garabedian, who represents 86 alleged victims of Geoghan, pressed on with the litigation after the archdiocese decided on Friday to withdraw from a settlement in the case. The rejected deal would have paid plaintiffs between $15 million and $30 million.
Geoghan is serving a nine-to-10 year prison sentence for fondling a boy.
In rejecting the settlement, the archdiocese's Finance Council cited concern that there would not be enough money left for the growing number of other people alleging they were sexually abused by priests.
The archdiocese said canon law required the finance council to approve the settlement. But Sweeney said Monday she had researched the matter and found no evidence of such a requirement, and ordered archdiocese lawyer Wilson D. Rogers Jr. to provide by Tuesday the text of the relevant church law.
Before Sweeney issued the order, Rogers said the cardinal would be available for a deposition at any time or place.
"He is fully committed to participating in a deposition, no matter if it takes one day or more," Rogers said. "He will cooperate."
Sweeney expressed sympathy with the Geoghan plaintiffs.
"To say the rug had been pulled out from under them is an understatement," she said, adding the archdiocese "pulled out with no notice" to the plaintiffs.
Plaintiff Mark Jeane, 33, who attended Monday's hearing, said the decision made him feel relieved.
"I'm very happy," he said. "He knows much more than he's letting on. I have no trust in the man. He's a complete liar. I only hope he can tell the truth in a courtroom."
Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priest, said in a statement she was pleased with the ruling.
"We hope that Law's prompt deposition will help these brave men and women move one step closer to healing," she said.
Earlier Monday, another attorney representing 150 alleged sex abuse victims wrote to the archdiocese of Boston to suggest a mediator be appointed to provide a vehicle for those alleged victims who want to settle their cases.
The lawyer, Roderick MacLeish, said many clients intended to pursue lawsuits, especially after the archdiocese backed out of its settlement in the Geoghan case on Friday.
"But there are a substantial number of cases out there where equitable settlements can be reached," he said.
MacLeish proposed Eric Green, who was the court-appointed mediator in the Microsoft antitrust case, to mediate. The archdiocese and Garabedian declined to comment.