Boston archdiocese offers to settle lawsuits

Sex-abuse plaintiffs’ lawyers call $55 million deal a starting point
Associated Press, Aug. 9, 2003

BOSTON – The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has offered $55 million to settle more than 500 clergy sex abuse lawsuits, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press.

The offer came Friday, just nine days after Archbishop Sean Patrick O’Malley was installed as head of the country’s fourth-largest diocese. Lawyers who represent hundreds of accusers said the offer probably won’t be accepted in its present form, but they called it a hopeful sign that a resolution was near.

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The settlement would resolve claims from men and women who said they were abused as children by clergy within the Boston Archdiocese while church hierarchy routinely ignored the misdeeds. A recent report from the state attorney general estimated that more than 1,000 children were abused over six decades.

If approved, it would be by far the largest deal to settle allegations of clergy abuse since the scandal broke in early 2002. In June, the archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., agreed to pay $25.7 million to 243 people who said they were abused.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, declined to comment on the proposed settlement, saying there was an agreement to not publicly discuss negotiations.

Lawyer Jeffrey Newman, whose firm represents more than 200 of those who reported abuse, called the offer “a significant showing of good faith by the archbishop,” but said it is far from a done deal. “We think it’s a very good start, but it’s only a start.”

Two mediators delivered the settlement proposal Friday afternoon to about 30 lawyers for the plaintiffs in a closed-door meeting at a downtown Boston hotel. Plaintiffs have 30 days to accept the offer; it would go into effect only if at least 95 percent of claimants accept it.

Mr. Newman said a committee of five plaintiffs’ lawyers will review the proposal and respond to the archdiocese. He added that all the plaintiffs’ lawyers will gather Wednesday to discuss the proposal.

A resolution to the cases has been elusive since the abuse crisis exploded. The crisis forced Cardinal Bernard Law to step down as archbishop in December, apologizing for the church’s failure to protect children and punish priests.

The abuse scandal gripped the archdiocese for more than a year and was punctuated by the release of thousands of pages of personnel files detailing a range of misdeeds by clergy. Cardinal Law had become viewed as more interested in sparing the church scandal than in preventing abuse.

Negotiations had been ongoing, but they didn’t bear fruit until Archbishop O’Malley’s installation last week.

“The whole Catholic community is ashamed and anguished because of the pain and damage inflicted on so many young people and because of our inability or unwillingness to deal with the crime of sexual abuse of minors,” Archbishop O’Malley said in his homily during his installation.

Archbishop O’Malley’s appointment brought new hope – particularly since the 59-year-old Franciscan friar had successfully negotiated a settlement with victims of James Porter in Fall River, Mass., in the early 1990s.

In September, the church reached a $10 million settlement for 86 victims of former priest John Geoghan after a previous $20 million to $30 million settlement collapsed.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday August 11, 2003.
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