An extraordinary procession of high-ranking church officials will answer questions under oath beginning Monday in two of the nation's most high-profile cases of priests accused of abusing children.
Cardinal Bernard Law and three bishops who once served as Law's subordinates in the Archdiocese of Boston are scheduled to give depositions to lawyers representing the priests' alleged victims.
The depositions are likely to sharpen the already intense scrutiny into the inner workings of the church, said Georgetown University Professor Chester Gillis, author of ``Roman Catholicism in America.''
``Depending on how the depositions are handled, that could inflict further wounds or be part of the healing process,'' he said.
High-ranking church officials have been deposed in the past — including Law last month. But Gillis said the number of prominent officials and the publicity surrounding the cases make the upcoming depositions unusual.
Bishop John McCormack of Manchester, N.H., is scheduled to be questioned Monday by attorney Roderick MacLeish in the case of the retired Rev. Paul Shanley. Shanley faces criminal charges for raping one boy during the 1980s and is accused in a civil suit of raping another.
McCormack, who was director of ministerial personnel in the Boston archdiocese from 1984 to 1994, has been accused in lawsuits of knowing priests were abusing boys and failing to intervene.
On Tuesday, Bishop Robert Banks of Green Bay, Wis., is scheduled to be deposed by attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents 86 alleged victims of defrocked priest and convicted child molester John Geoghan. Banks served as auxiliary bishop under Law, and became Green Bay bishop 11 years ago.
Law is scheduled to be deposed in the Shanley case on Wednesday and Friday. He answered questions last month about Geoghan.
The following week, New York Bishop Thomas Dailey, a former chancellor of the Boston archdiocese, and David W. Smith, chancellor for the Boston archdiocese, are both scheduled for depositions.
The Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, said the depositions are painful, but necessary.
``The fact is that because of the past things that we've done and our failure to take care of business in the way that we should have, we have brought this on,'' he said.
At a hearing Friday, a judge cautioned attorneys on both sides to behave during the upcoming questioning of Law and McCormack. MacLeish had complained about conduct of church lawyers during a recent deposition.
Law's earlier deposition in the Geoghan case sparked controversy because the transcript was released by the court after the first day of questioning, which a judge called improper.
Boston defense attorney J. Albert Johnson criticized the alleged victims' attorneys, saying they had turned the cases into ``a dog and pony show'' by publicizing their allegations and deposition details. He said the publicity would taint future jury pools.
The depositions come near the June 13 start of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Dallas, when bishops plan to hammer out a nationwide policy on sexual abuse. A draft of the policy is expected to be released before the meeting.
Coyne said he had not seen a draft. He said bishops may look to Boston for leadership, but said consensus had not been reached on the issues of mandatory reporting and zero tolerance.
``While Boston can bring a level of experience that other dioceses have not had, there is certainly going to be a lively discussion,'' he said.