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Final Abuse Victims in Hearing

August 7, 2002

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BOSTON (AP) _ Lawyers for alleged abuse victims of defrocked priest John Geoghan presented their final witnesses in a hearing to determine whether the Boston Archdiocese must honor a settlement agreement worth up to $30 million.

Attorney William Gordon testified Tuesday that archdiocese officials repeatedly assured him and other members of his law firm that they had enough insurance money to cover the settlement.

``We always understood they were going to sign,″ Gordon said.

The archdiocese’s finance council later refused to fund the settlement announced in March, saying it could not afford it. Lawyers for 86 alleged victims of Geoghan have asked Judge Constance Sweeney to order the archdiocese to honor the agreement.

Also Tuesday, the Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, acknowledged that he told The Boston Globe that Cardinal Bernard Law intended to sign the agreement.

The archdiocese was expected to present its own witnesses Wednesday, followed by closing arguments from both sides.

Law, testifying at the hearing last week, insisted he had never considered the agreement to be final because it required signatures of the victims as well as the archdiocese’s finance committee.

In another development Tuesday, Sweeney issued a ruling that will force transcripts of depositions given by Law in abuse lawsuits against a retired priest to be released to the public.

Sweeney said the transcripts from the first two days of Law’s testimony in June must be filed with the court on August 13.

The retired priest, Paul Shanley, 71, became a key figure in the church sexual abuse scandal when the archdiocese released personnel files indicating church officials had received complaints about Shanley going back to 1967.

He was indicted in June on 10 counts of child rape and six counts of indecent assault and battery for allegedly abusing boys from 1979 to 1989 while he was a priest at a church in Newton. Shanley has pleaded innocent.

Law is expected to be questioned again by lawyers for the plaintiffs on Aug. 13. One of the attorneys, Jeffrey Newman, said it could take at least several days to finish Law’s deposition.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, the Diocese of Richmond defended its handling of an investigation of sexual impropriety by a priest. The diocese’s handling of the case led to the resignation of four members of the diocese’s sex-abuse review panel.

Bishop Walter Sullivan ``did a thorough investigation with a team who gave him a recommendation and he basically followed it,″ the Rev. Pasquale Apuzzo, a spokesman for the diocese, said Tuesday.

Members of the panel have criticized the bishop for returning the priest to his suburban Richmond parish without consulting them.

Panel members said they never saw the final report prepared by a two-person investigative team that researched the allegations. Apuzzo acknowledged that the 10-member panel should have received a copy of the team’s findings.

``We don’t have any dispute that they should have gotten the report,″ Apuzzo said. He added, however, that the bishop ``had every reason to believe that the process was being followed.″

The priest was placed on leave in May after the diocese received a complaint that he committed improper sexual behavior about 30 years ago. He was reinstated after the investigation.

The investigative team recommended that the priest be removed, treated by mental health specialists and then reassigned, Apuzzo said. That, the spokesman said, is what the bishop did.

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