Church braces for more suits

Sunday, May 23, 2004 Five months after the Boston Archdiocese settled the nation’s largest known financial payout over clergy abuse, the groundwork is being laid for more legal action against the church by dozens of new alleged victims in the sex-abuse scandal.

Lawyers representing an estimated 40 to 50 new alleged victims of sex abuse by priests plan to meet June 2 to discuss how to proceed with legal action against the archdiocese, according to Boston attorney Carmen Durso.

Earlier this month, Durso sent an e-mail to lawyers who represented 540 victims of clergy sex abuse in an $85 million settlement paid out in December.

Victims’ attorneys are trying to determine the magnitude of a “second wave” of lawsuits against the archdiocese and how they should be handled, Durso said.

“These are people who did not just come out of the woodwork. They’ve always been there,” said Durso, who represented 40 alleged victims during the first round of negotiations.

Many of those clients say they were abused by the Rev. Bernard J. Lane during his tenure as head of the Alpha/Omega youth treatment center in Littleton in the 1970s.

This time around, Durso said he has 12 new clients. “These people are no less worthy of recognition,” he said.

Nance Lyons, a Boston attorney who also represented victims of Lane in the first lawsuit, has one new client who claims abuse at Lane’s hands.

“I’m very shocked that I haven’t received additional calls from (victims of) Bernard Lane,” Lyons said in a telephone interview on Friday.

In Milford, attorneys Michael Kaplan and James Wittorff are working with two new alleged victims of clergy sex abuse.

During the first round of negotiations, Kaplan represented three men who were abused by the Rev. Paul J. Tivnan at Our Lady of Fatima parish in Sudbury.

One new client is a 40-year-old Bellingham man who claims he was raped by the Rev. Paul M. Desilets while he was an altar boy and member of the Assumption parish basketball team during the 1970s, Kaplan said.

Desilets, now retired, was scheduled to appear in a Canadian court Friday for an extradition hearing, according to Elizabeth Stammo, spokeswoman for Worcester County District Attorney John J. Conte.

The former Bellingham associate pastor faces 16 counts of indecent assault and battery on a child, 10 counts of assault and battery on a person 14 years or older and six counts of assault and battery. The charges stem from alleged sexual abuse against nearly 20 altar boys between 1978 and 1984.

Kaplan is also representing a 39-year-old Waltham man who was allegedly abused by the Rev. Joseph Riley while he was at St. Malachy Church in Burlington during the 1970s.

Riley would give the boy screwdrivers and other alcoholic beverages before allegedly sexually assaulting him, Kaplan said.

Kaplan said he is also investigating a third claim involving a priest who served in the Milford area.

About a month ago, he spoke with church attorney Thomas Hannigan Jr. about sending the archdiocese letters of representation. Kaplan said he is waiting for the church to send tolling agreements to stop the statute of limitations clock from running on the sex-abuse cases.

“For so many years people kept sweeping it under the carpet. It’s hard for (victims) to believe that all of the sudden that people are believing them,” said Kaplan in an interview at his Main Street office.

“I think if you were going to jump on a bandwagon, so to speak, and you knew there was a finite date as there was given in the last round, you would have done it at the time the date was given. Because people didn’t realize or understand that if you went after that date, you still have a right. You’re not giving it up.”

Neither of his two new clients have raised the issue of money, Kaplan said. Rather they are interested in seeking justice and clearing up the record, he said.

“I think there will be more suspicion of fraudulent claims,” said Lyons.

Durso said he is not sure if attorneys will decide to approach a new batch of lawsuits in the same unified way the first negotiations were handled. One person connected to the case said the June 2 meeting will be in Boston. Durso said lawyers would make a statement to the media after the meeting.

Ten people — all alleged victims of the Rev. Paul Shanley or their families — elected to press on with lawsuits last December. At the time of the $85 million payout, attorneys said at least seven new lawsuits had been filed.

The Boston law firm Greenberg Traurig represented about half of the victims in the $85 million settlement. Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr. was out of the office last week and couldn’t be reached for comment. Attorney Jeffrey Newman did not return phone calls.

Paul Baier, spokesman for Wellesley-based Survivors First, predicted the Boston Archdiocese would prefer to settle claims before they are filed in court.

“The Church is not an idiot. The last thing they want is a big plaintiff counsel coming forward,” said Baier, who knows five alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse in New England who have recently decided to come forward.

Talk of a second round of lawsuits comes at turbulent financial times for the Church.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley, did not return a telephone call Friday seeking comment.

Last month, church officials announced that Boston College would buy the headquarters of the Boston Archdiocese and 43 acres of surrounding land for $99.4 million.

The proceeds of the sale will be used to pay off $90 million in loans taken out to pay for the legal settlement of cases involving clergy sexual abuse of minors, church officials said.

The archdiocese is also suing one of its insurers, accusing the company of fraud and breach of contract for failure to cover settlement payments to victims of clergy abuse.

The lawsuit asks a judge to rule that Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Co., the lead underwriter of Kemper Insurance Cos. group, was obligated to cover sexual abuse claims between 1964 and March 31, 1983, with no limit on the total that could be paid out.

The church calculates $59.3 million of the settlement falls under periods when Lumbermens was the archdiocese’s sole insurer. Another $7.7 million stems from periods when Lumbermens’ coverage overlapped with another insurer.

Last July, Attorney General Thomas Reilly released a report saying that 250 priests and church workers probably molested as many as 1,000 people between 1940 and 2000.

Attorneys contacted this week said it would be another decade before victims of clergy sex abuse from the 1990s step forward.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Metro West Daily News, USA
May 23, 2004
Laura Crimaldi

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday May 24, 2004.
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