VOLUME 3, ISSUE 344 | October 28 – November 3, 2004
SIN: A CARDINAL DEPOSED
The Clurman Theater
410 W. 42nd St.
Mon.-Sat.8 p.m.; Sat. 2 p.m.
Through Dec. 4
$51.25; 212 –239-6200
Investigating A Pedophilia Syndicate
A playwright uncovers what Boston’s Cardinal Law knew and when he knew it
John Cullum (left) stars as Cardinal Bernard Law, the archbishop of Boston, seen here with an attorney, played by John Leonard Thompson, during legal proceedings investigating the church’s knowledge of child sexual abuse perpetrated by priests.
It is not everybody who takes along a thousand pages of legal depositions as light reading matter during a vacation. But Michael Murphy is not everybody. He’s a playwright of serious bent—and the reading in fact wasn’t so light.
Out of it has come “Sin: A Cardinal Deposed,” an astringent play crafted from those depositions, just opening under Carl Forsman’s direction at the Clurman Theater on 42nd Street’s Theatre Row.
The cardinal in question is the scandal-rocked Boston archdiocese’s former prelate, Bernard F. Law. He’s played by John Cullum.
“What I wanted to find out,” tall, muscular Michael Murphy said the other day, “was what Law’s role was in these sexual abuse scandals. That’s what I pursued. I knew before I started that he had had to resign; his derelictions were so damning.”
Those thousand pages—printed out by Murphy from the Internet—embraced two lawsuits, one brought against the Boston area’s Father John Geoghan by 87 plaintiffs charging him with sexual assault going back through his 30 years as a priest; the other (in six sessions of depositions spanning six moths) against Bernard Law for negligence in these matters—meaning cover-up—throughout his career as a prince of the church.
“So I began reading those depositions, and I found them riveting,” Murphy recalled. “Couldn’t put them down. About halfway through, I thought: You know, princes of the church are not deposed under oath very often, and there’s something there…”
In short, a play somewhere in the wind.
What’s even more astonishing than a cardinal being deposed is that the bench in this case—Judge Constance Sweeney of Suffolk County Superior Court, known in those parts as Fearless Sweeney—ruled that the depositions would be made public.
“A local girl. Catholic. Intelligent. I think she felt ill treated by the diocesan counsel,” said the 47-year-old Murphy. “Felt they were stonewalling. So she released all the transcripts and all the diocesan papers going back 15 years. Fifteen thousand pages, such a bureaucracy; they kept everything. Envelopes. Their doodles. Everything!
“Actually, what started me on this was that, as a gay man, I thought this issue is going to be used to roll back all sorts of things. Parental rights for gay people. Employment rights. And so forth.”
The roll-back ammunition: “That gay men can’t keep their hands off children,” Murphy conjectured. “Commentators, including William F. Buckley, said this was not because there might be something wrong with the church, but because there are gay people in the clergy. Buckley’s argument was a bit more nuanced than that, and he ultimately did call on Law to resign, but…
“I’m not trying to be paranoid or anything,” Murphy said, “but there is a movement to push out, or push aside, clergy that is sympathetic to gay rights. There is, in this case, an ultimate irony of course: Massachusetts the first state to legalize gay marriage.”
Born and raised in Everett, Washington, a little town outside Seattle—“Hicksville, before there were computers, before there was coffee”—Murphy is not Catholic, though he went to Gonzaga, a Jesuit university in Spokane.
So, Michael, you did you have the misfortune of being violated by a priest?
Or by any adult, as a kid?
“I’m always asked that question. But no.”
This is his fifth or sixth play. An earlier one was “The Debating Society,” which had to do with murderous kids bringing guns into school.
“It was done in Denver, of all places,” he said. “Family members of Columbine came. The situation of kids in this country is terrible. It’s the same thing here [i.e., with victims of sexual abuse by priests]. Every survivor I’ve talked with told me that when they walked away—as a child—they felt it was their fault.”
Again and again throughout the play, a non-Catholic reader (this one) can find himself moved by some of Bernard Cardinal Law’s words under oath, like these, concerning Father Geoghan:
This is an effort to be pastorally present as a priest who, in his life, did minister well to a number of people, and at the same time, terribly abused children. It’s a mixture of light and of darkness. And when you respond to an individual in the midst of that kind of a situation, you, I think, appropriately, as a bishop, try to remind that person that there has been—that there has been some good here; that your life is not defined simply by your evil deeds, but some of your good deeds are also there.
And yet, it’s a call for him [Geoghan] to respond with honesty to his situation and trust. We sent him to this place, Southdown, where we had hoped he would be helped.
Any sympathy for Cardinal Law, Mr. Murphy?
Long pause. Long thought. Then: “That’s… Yes, definitely… It wouldn’t be much of a play if I didn’t have.”
Another pause. Then: “He’s gone down a path a lot of talented, brilliant people do. Somewhere along the line his desire to be a prince of the church led to compromise in morals and ethics. What’s scary is that this was over a 20-year period when children were being raped.
“It’s easy to think of someone evil [overlooking that]. But how about someone trained in theology and morals? You did really care about your priests. Why didn’t you care about the laity, the children, in the same way? And it’s a question he, Law, refuses to answer. Has no answer.”
On August 23, 2003, Geoghan was strangled and stomped to death by a homophobic inmate while in protective custody in the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts.
“Yes, I felt bad,” said Murphy, “but I talked to some of Geoghan’s victims, and they said they got no satisfaction from [his murder] at all.”
The damage was done long ago. To Geoghan, too. To the cardinal. To the kids.