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Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, in a step long sought by critics of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, said yesterday that he is hiring a new general counsel who will largely replace the controversial law firm that for years defended the archdiocese against scores of people who said they were sexually abused by priests.
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F. Beirne Lovely Jr., a partner at Goodwin Procter, will effectively replace the Rogers Law Firm, which has represented the archdiocese in most legal matters for at least two decades. The Rogers Law Firm, led by lawyer Wilson D. Rogers Jr., has been viewed with suspicion and hostility by many victim advocates and would-be church reformers - in part because of Rogers's close relationship with Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who resigned five years ago at the height of the clergy sexual-abuse crisis, and because Rogers was viewed as an architect of the archdiocese's yearslong adversarial handling of complaints and lawsuits brought by people who said they were sexually abused by priests.

"Wilson Rogers was the iron fist inside Bernard Law's velvet glove, the operative who for many years obstructed and outmaneuvered victims' attempts to hold the archdiocese accountable for sheltering pedophiles," said Anne Barrett Doyle, codirector of BishopAccountability.org, a victim advocacy organization. "God only knows how many children were harmed because of Rogers's success in silencing victims and his ruthless dedication to keeping the archdiocese out of civil courts."

The archdiocese, which has a vast array of legal issues ranging from personnel and real estate matters to more publicly sensitive cases involving parish closings and sexual abuse, said only that it had decided the time had come for an in-house counsel who would oversee all of the archdiocese's legal concerns and hire outside lawyers as needed.

"We believe that an in-house counsel having a broad-based legal background will best serve the archdiocese," James P. McDonough, archdiocesan chancellor, said in a statement.

Terrence C. Donilon, archdiocesan spokesman, said the Rogers Law Firm would continue to do some work for the archdiocese and represent Caritas Christi, the archdiocesan hospital network. He said the archdiocese would still retain Thomas H. Hannigan, a longtime and trusted O'Malley adviser from the law firm Ropes & Gray, to handle abuse-related litigation.

Donilon said Lovely would report to the archdiocesan vicar general and would be "a member of senior leadership" at the chancery.

Rogers declined to comment yesterday, but his firm offered the Globe a statement congratulating Lovely and saying, "The extent and magnitude of legal issues affecting the archdiocese on a daily basis warrants an in-house full-time general counsel. The Rogers Law Firm looks forward to working with Mr. Lovely and to continue providing legal services to the Archdiocese of Boston."

Lovely also declined to comment, except via a statement from the archdiocese in which he said he was "honored" by the new position. The archdiocese would not say how much Lovely would be paid, but said it would report his salary next year, with the archdiocese's annual financial disclosure forms, if he is among the archdiocese's top five salaried employees.

The archdiocese reported paying The Rogers Law Firm $610,000 in fiscal 2006 and $448,054 in fiscal 2005. Caritas Christi reported paying the firm $6.9 million over the past eight years.

Lovely is a decorated Vietnam veteran who graduated from Dartmouth College and Boston University Law School. He has been at Goodwin Procter since 1976 and is a member of its business law department. He is chairman of the Milton School Committee and a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Church in Milton.

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