Monday, April 29, 2002 E-mail This Article
Court documents filed by Cardinal Law say negligence by boy, parents contributed to alleged sexual abuse
By THEO EMERY
Associated Press Writer
BOSTON (AP) — A legal response by Cardinal Bernard F. Law to a lawsuit filed by an alleged priest sex abuse victim and his parents says in part that their "negligence" contributed to the alleged abuse.
The argument from the cardinal’s attorney, contained in a six-page response to the lawsuit filed against him by Gregory Ford, now 24, and his parents, Rodney and Paula Ford of Newton, is a standard legal defense, but has sparked criticism because of the delicate nature of the case.
In their civil lawsuit, the Fords allege that Law was negligent in overseeing the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, who he knew, or should have known, was a danger to children.
Law’s legal response, filed in Middlesex Superior Court earlier this month, denies each of the individual allegations against Law, and Law’s personal knowledge of them.
After responding to each of the plaintiff’s complaints, the response says: "The defendant says that the Plaintiffs were not in the exercise of due care, but rather the negligence of the Plaintiffs contributed to cause the injury or damage complained of..."
The passage goes on to say that because of the plaintiff’s negligence, "recovery of the plaintiffs is barred in whole or in part or is subject to diminution."
The response also says that any damages assessed against Law "should be reduced in proportion to the said negligence of the Plaintiffs," and that the lawsuit was not brought "within the time specified by" state law.
The archdiocese did not immediately return calls to comment Monday.
The Fords’ attorney, Roderick MacLeish, who is scheduled to take Shanley’s deposition on May 2 and Law’s on June 5, said he found the claim by the cardinal "appalling."
"There is no set of circumstances under which a 6-year-old child could be blamed for something like this," MacLeish said.
The parents of Gregory Ford, who allegedly was abused by Shanley between 1983 and 1989, reacted angrily to Law’s court defense.
"To say my son is legally responsible for his own abuse at the hands of this monster Shanley when my son was only 6 years old is horrific," Rodney Ford said in an interview published by The Boston Globe on Monday.
The language in the answer allows the archdiocese to raise a defense known as the "doctrine of contributory negligence" — the argument that the plaintiff is responsible — as the case progresses, said Rosanna Cavallaro, a law professor at Suffolk University.
She called the language "boilerplate... formulaic, canned responses," and said it would be unusual for an attorney not to raise every defense available, including this one. That said, it could be perceived as "a thumb in the eye" for the Fords.
"I think most people would be very unpleasantly struck by that, to hear that coming from the Cardinal," she said.
David Yas, publisher and editor-in-chief of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, said Law’s response, while potentially "surprising and disturbing to members of the public," was "hardly unusual."
"When a lawyer has to defend someone in a case like this, they have to cast a wide net of defense in order to defend their client’s rights. That’s exactly what happened here. It borders on disingenuous to say that anything outlandish is happening here," he said.
The cardinal’s legal response involves the same lawsuit that forced the Archdiocese of Boston to release about 1,600 pages of Shanley’s records earlier this month.
The papers indicate that Law and his predecessor, Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros, were aware of Shanley’s longtime advocacy for sex between men and boys.
Shanley, 71, whose last known address is in San Diego, has issued no public statements since the case began.
© 2002 Geo. J. Foster Company
WHAT A BUNCH OF BULLSHIT...