| BOSTON MA –
TENTATIVE SETTLEMENT (9/9/03)
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By Michael Paulson email@example.com
SEATTLE -- The president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said settling the hundreds of lawsuits in Boston is an "absolutely critical" step toward reassuring Catholics throughout the nation that the church can move forward from crisis.
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory yesterday told a gathering of religion reporters here that he views it as essential for Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley of Boston to succeed in his efforts to resolve the more than 500 legal claims pending against the archdiocese.
"Certainly, the healing of the church in Boston because it was the epicenter, although not the only place, where difficulties came to public attention . . . will begin to reassure people that the church is capable of addressing these matters," Gregory said.
"I think a lot of local churches, and a lot of people, will say if they can come to a resolution and a healing and a reconciliation in Boston, then other places that have similar issues will be able to move forward, too."
He spoke at the end of a week in which church and plaintiffs' attorneys in Boston expressed optimism that a settlement may be near, but before a last-minute dispute among lawyers for alleged abuse victims last night forced postponement of a highly anticipated meeting this morning between O'Malley and some alleged abuse victims.
Gregory, the bishop of Belleville, Ill., was the featured speaker at the opening session of the 54th annual conference of the Religion Newswriters Association, a trade association of reporters who cover religion for the secular print and broadcast media.
Gregory was elected president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 2001, just before the clergy abuse scandal broke open in Boston in January 2002. Under his leadership, the church in the United States last year adopted new guidelines barring abusive priests from the ministry.
The bishop, who is widely credited with acting swiftly to stem an abuse crisis in Belleville by ousting 10 percent of local priests after his arrival in 1994, declined to offer a detailed analysis of what had gone wrong in Boston. But he expressed full confidence in O'Malley, who was installed as archbishop of Boston on July 30 after heading two other dioceses racked by abuse scandals -- in Palm Beach, Fla., and Fall River.
O'Malley "is working very effectively to bring about the resolution of those lawsuits, and I think that's critical . . . because I think until those issues are settled, the next steps towards healing just simply won't get to the front burner," Gregory said.
Gregory said that, just as Boston has become a symbol of the church's problems, it can become a symbol of the possibility of solution.
"As it served as an example of what had happened, I think it will serve as an example of what can happen in response to good, faithful, and spiritually hopeful leadership," he said.
The Rev. Stephen V. Sundborg, president of Seattle University, a Jesuit college, said Gregory is correct that resolving the situation in Boston is important for the church nationally.
"My sense is that Catholics don't distinguish much in terms of what's in the news -- they read about Boston and identify it as the Catholic Church, and that impacts their sense of the overall church and the bishops," he said.
Gregory, speaking to an audience that included many reporters who have written extensively about clergy sexual abuse over the past 18 months, also offered sharp criticism of the news media, which he said had failed to put abuse by Catholic priests in historical or societal context.
"The media coverage last year did help the church to take some steps that will wring this terrible stain out of her life, to the extent that sin and crime can ever be fully eliminated," he said. "However, the way the story was so obsessively covered resulted in unnecessary damage to the bishops and the entire Catholic community."
Gregory called sexual abuse "a horrid betrayal of [the church's] very nature and mission." But Gregory, who has become increasingly critical of the media's role in the crisis over the last year, suggested that the news coverage often slighted or ignored progress the bishops had made during the 1990s at addressing sexual abuse.
"As this story was too often reported, molesters whose careers of preying on children had already been brought to a close several years before were treated as breaking news," he said. "Even in the midst of a perfect storm of coverage in 2002, most newly reported offenses still went back more than a decade. The public was scarcely ever effectively offered this balancing information."
Gregory said his concern about a lack of perspective in the news media is affecting his attitude toward the release of several church reports in coming months. A National Review Board, appointed by the bishops, is scheduled in December to release an audit examining diocesan compliance with the church's national child protection policy, and is set early next year to release two reports on the scope and causes of the abuse crisis.
He called the impending release of the reports "a communications nightmare," saying "how do we engage in a serious public self-examination of our past on the issue of sexual abuse without engendering a type of sensationalistic coverage of past misconduct that obscures present achievements in eliminating that misconduct?"
He also called on reporters to "cease linking child sexual abuse solely to Catholic clerics."
"I can find only minimal attempts on the part of the media to discover the extent of the problem outside the Catholic priesthood," Gregory said. "Few have suggested that this is also a moment to ask educators, athletic coaches, scouting directors, medical personnel, and other religious personnel to review their own policies and history."
Gregory's remarks were criticized by David Clohessy, the executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, who is in Seattle to observe the religion writers' conference.
"It's somewhat disappointing that he spent so much time blaming
the media and praising his colleagues . . . and gave no hint that piecemeal
belated steps may not be sufficient," he said.
by Tom Mashberg
Attorneys for 542 clergy abuse plaintiffs are ready to bring an $85 million settlement deal to their clients today after a secret meeting with Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley on Sunday and another marathon session yesterday, sources said.
The lawyers hope to spend the morning persuading their clients the offer is the best they can wring from the church, sources said.
With the clients' approval, they would announce it this afternoon during a previously scheduled pretrial session before the judge overseeing the clergy sex-abuse claims, Constance M. Sweeney, in Suffolk Superior Court.
None of the principals involved in the last two days of secret talks would comment for the record yesterday, but legal sources speaking on condition of anonymity warned the deal might still rupture if a large proportion of the claimants balked at the dollar amount - the largest ever offered in a Catholic Church abuse scandal.
The tentative deal was forged after a weekend of intense secret negotiations between a steering committee of eight lawyers for the plaintiffs and representatives of the church. The talks were held at the Brockton office of mediator Paul A. Finn, sources said.
O'Malley attended the Sunday night session, sources said, delivering a written offer to plaintiffs' counsel and warning them the church would not come up with a penny more.
Plaintiffs had asked for $90 million to $120 million.
Sources said O'Malley's presence Sunday night at the talks, which lasted past midnight, came as a surprise to the lawyers, who had not yet smoothed over a fight they had late last week.
That fight, over which attorneys would get to announce the progress of any talks, led to an initial postponement of a planned Saturday negotiating session with O'Malley.
Sources say O'Malley had planned to offer $75 million at the start of the aborted Saturday session, and go to $85 million to seal the deal.
Sources say that after the session was canceled on Friday, the still-angry lawyers met grudgingly amongst themselves in Boston on Saturday afternoon. Sources say they were contacted by mediator Finn, who invited them to an evening session at his Commonwealth Mediation & Conciliation offices in Brockton.
To the lawyers' surprise, the sources say, O'Malley appeared with his written $85 million proposal, and warned the attorneys it was all he could offer. The alternative, he said, was for the lawyers to take the cases to court.
The lawyers broke off about 12:30 a.m. Monday and agreed to return to Brockton yesterday. O'Malley, who was scheduled last night to fly to Washington, D.C., for a previously scheduled bishops' conference, did not take part again yesterday, but representing him were his attorney, Thomas J. Hannigan, and the Rev. John Connolly, his secretary.
The archdiocese's offer includes a commitment to pay for long-term therapy for the alleged victims, sources said, and other inducements.
Sources say church officials told the lawyers most of the $85 million would come from loans, with $10 to $15 million coming from church property sales.
One source warned there was always a chance the deal would collapse given
the mercurial temperaments of the lawyers and the fact that some victims
had demands more than $100 million to settle.
By Denise Lavoie
BOSTON (AP) - A multimillion-dollar settlement between lawyers for more than 500 alleged victims of clergy sex abuse and the Boston Archdiocese appeared to be nearly completed following two days of secret negotiations, with a mediator sitting in on the talks.
After an 8 1/2-hour negotiating session Monday, it was not immediately determined whether an agreement in principle had been reached. A source close to the talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Tuesday morning that a deal had not been finalized and would not confirm reports that there was a deal in hand worth about $85 million.
After an 8 1/2-hour negotiating session Monday, it was not immediately determined whether an agreement in principle had been reached. Lawyers involved in the talks did not return repeated calls seeking comment.
A steering committee of lawyers representing victims began meeting Sunday night with Paul H. Hannigan Jr., the lead attorney for the archdiocese, and with mediator Paul A. Finn of Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation, a Brockton firm.
Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley attended Sunday's meeting at the invitation of the mediator, another source close to the negotiations told The Associated Press. He stayed until it ended after midnight Monday.
O'Malley, who was installed July 30, vowed to bring a speedy resolution to the legal claims.
During the last two weeks, the two sides had narrowed the gap between the archdiocese's original $55 million offer and the $90 million to $120 million sought by the victims.
The two days of negotiations followed a public tussle late last week, when a scheduled Saturday meeting with O'Malley was scuttled because of infighting among lawyers.
O'Malley had agreed to hear directly from 10 victims during a negotiating session that some thought would produce a settlement agreement.
O'Malley left late Monday for Washington, D.C., where he was scheduled to attend a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Administrative Committee, which begins Tuesday and runs through Thursday.
O'Malley, installed in July to lead the nation's fourth-largest Roman Catholic diocese, quickly took an influential role in the lawsuit settlement negotiations. He replaced Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned after a barrage of criticism over his handling of sex abuse allegations.
O'Malley was bishop of the Fall River Diocese, where one of the most notorious clergy abuse cases surfaced in the 1990s involving the Rev. James Porter. O'Malley met with many of the victims, a step that was seen as critical to the eventual settlement of more than 100 lawsuits.
And shortly after he arrived in Boston, he replaced the lead lawyers
representing the archdiocese with Tom Hannigan Jr., an attorney credited
with helping to settle the Fall River cases.
Sept. 9— ABCNEWS has learned that the Boston Archdiocese of the Catholic church has reached a tentative settlement with the more than 500 victims of pedophile priests.
The settlement terms total $85 million, with each victim to get between $80,000 and $300,000, depending on the length and severity of abuse.
For the settlement to go into effect, 80 percent of the victims have to agree to the terms.
It is expected that an announcement of the settlement could be made as early as 11:30 a.m. ET.
Bishop Sean O'Malley, who was installed in July as the new bishop of the archdiocese, was personally involved in the final talks, which took place Sunday and Monday.
O'Malley, Paul H. Hannigan Jr., the lead attorney for the archdiocese, and with mediator Paul A. Finn of Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation, a Brockton, Mass., firm, conducted the settlement talks with a steering committee of lawyers representing the victims. The church's initial offer, proposed last month, was $65 million.
ABC News’ Ron Claiborne contributed to this report.
By Robin Washington
Victims of clergy sexual abuse and their advocates reacted to the word of an $85 million settlement offer by the Archdiocese of Boston last night, some expressing surprise at the magnitude of the amount but most cautioning that money alone cannot guarantee healing.
``There is no retribution and the person that molested me is still out there. The money is irrelevant. It does nothing for me,'' he added.
John Harris of Norwood, an alleged victim of the Rev. Paul Shanley and another member of the pool, said along with the payments were intangibles - his being a show of contrition by church officials and teh abusers.
``Everyone has their own issues for what they would like to see happen,'' he said. ``Apologies are needed, not just by the archbishop but other people, too, who have put us through the wringer for the past year and a half.''
Another member of the pool who has withheld his name warned that as he understood it, the settlement process could reignite the pain of abuse.
``We're going to have to go before the archdiocese's mediator, and we'll have to tell our stories and relive our pain all over again,'' he said. ``How many times do we have to keep reopening the wounds before this is over?''
Joe Gallagher of the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors said he was surprised the church came close to the plaintiffs' lawyers' demand of $90 million.
``I'm surprised. If they put $75 million on the table and said final offer, these guys would have taken it. It's $10 million more than what they could have given,'' he said, adding he hoped the difference could be viewed as earnest money to show the church was seriously repentant.
Ann Hagan Webb of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests put the amount in perspective - coming in on a lower-per-victim average than that offered by the Diocese of Providence last year, but higher than the $10 million deal the Boston church struck with 86 clients of Mitchell Garabedian in the John J. Geoghan case.
``With sexual abuse, a million dollars is not enough to take away the pain, which never goes away, but sometimes a dollar can be validation,'' she said. ``It's up to each individual to decide if this is an adequate settlement for them.''
Paul Baier, president of Survivors First, a victims' advocacy group, said it was critical for victims not to be ``strong-armed'' into accepting the deal.
``The lawyers have 34 million reasons to close this. If their clients want to, that's great, but the decision is theirs, not their lawyers','' he said.
Although he called O'Malley's direct involvement in the negotiations a ``positive step,'' Baier also said the bishop has much left to do if he wants to restore the confidence of many Catholics in the archdiocese.
``A settlement does not mean the church has been reformed,'' he said.
Marie Szaniszlo contributed to this report.
By Ralph Ranalli
Two days after settlement talks were abruptly canceled amid acrimony among the lawyers representing alleged victims of clergy sex abuse, the attorneys resumed negotiations with lawyers for the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and they have held secret talks the past two nights in a drive to reach a settlement, a lawyer familiar with the negotiations said yesterday.
Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley attended Sunday night's session at an undisclosed location, the lawyer said.
The extent of progress toward a settlement was not known, and the two sides kept details of the negotiations secret.
Yesterday, the Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, declined to comment on the talks, except to say that they had been expected to resume this week. Robert Sherman -- a lawyer for the Boston firm Greenberg Traurig, which represents more than 260 people who have made sexual abuse claims against the archdiocese -- declined to comment.
The other members of the steering committee of lawyers representing alleged abuse victims -- Mitchell Garabedian, Carmen Durso, Timothy O'Connell, and Alan Cantor -- could not be reached for comment.
The committee met with the lead attorney for the archdiocese, Paul H. Hannigan Jr., and with mediator Paul A. Finn of Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation, a Brockton firm. Neither could be reached for comment.
The secret sessions began Sunday night, after the abrupt cancellation of a special Saturday negotiating session that was supposed to have featured direct talks involving O'Malley and 10 alleged abuse victims.
O'Malley was supposed to hear the victims' stories and to lead a push to bring the talks to a successful conclusion.
But the session was canceled Friday after some lawyers for victims said that leaks threatened to create a "media circus" that would sabotage the effort to bridge a money gap of at least $25 million.
The Globe reported two weeks ago that O'Malley had raised the church's initial offer from $55 million to $65 million. That put the sides at least $25 million apart. A week earlier, a steering committee of lawyers representing the 550 plaintiffs told the archdiocese that they believed the claims were worth between $90 million and $120 million.
People involved in the talks have said that the plaintiffs' lawyers reached their figures by analyzing each of the more than 500 claims and coming up with a range of compensation for each victim based on the abuse each suffered and amounts awarded in similar cases, including last year's $10 million settlement by the archdiocese with 86 victims of the Rev. John J. Geoghan.
An agreement would be the culmination of weeks of intensive negotiations that began in early July, after O'Malley was installed as archbishop and vowed to bring a speedy resolution to the legal claims.
One of his first acts as archbishop was to appoint Hannigan to represent the church in settlement negotiations. Hannigan helped O'Malley settle abuse claims filed against the Diocese of Fall River in the early 1990s when O'Malley headed that diocese. Nine days later, on Aug. 8, O'Malley made the church's initial $55 million offer.
A church official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, said at the time of O'Malley's initial offer that the settlement was being financed in part with $15 million raised through the recent sale of church property.
Much of the additional $40 million was expected to come from the insurance companies that provided coverage to the archdiocese during many of the years that the alleged abuse took place.
O'Malley planned to get the money from the insurance companies either through negotiation or, if necessary, by taking them to court, a tactic he used successfully when he settled the Fall River abuse claims, the official said.
Of the 550 claims, approximately 200 are being made by people who say they were raped or sodomized by their abuser. Those plaintiffs would probably receive the largest awards.
Another 300 claims were made by people who say they were fondled, while approximately 40 were made by parents who are alleging loss of consortium with victimized children.
About 140 priests and brothers and one lay church employee are named
as alleged abusers in the claims, some of which date from the late 1950s.
By Wilton D. Gregory
Washington -- Below is the statement on the settlement by the Archdiocese of Boston with victims of sexual abuse by priests, issued by Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, September 9.
“This is an important agreement. It demonstrates that the Church is committed to working out just settlements which seek to meet, to the extent possible, the needs of people who have suffered terribly. I hope that all the victims will choose to participate in this global settlement.
“Certainly a monetary settlement is only part of the process of healing. That is why the Archdiocese will continue to offer psychological counseling to victims.
"These were among the cases that precipitated 20 months of soul-searching
by the Church. We are visibly seeking to heal our wounds caused by sexual
abuse and moving forward as promised in the Dallas Charter of 2002."
By Tom Mashberg and Eric Convey
A wave of relief washed over the embattled Archdiocese of Boston yesterday after the church promised 552 alleged clergy molestation victims not just $85 million in settlement money but a role in shaping church sexual abuse policy and a chance for emotional closure.
After signing the hard-fought accord at midday, with Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley taking part by phone from Washington, counsel for the church and the accusers asked a Suffolk Superior Court judge to bless the preliminary deal.
They said they hoped to see claimants compensated by Christmas.
``This piece of paper means one thing to me and many men I represent here today,'' said Gary Bergeron of Lowell, who says he was molested by the late Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham in the 1970s. ``From this day forward, in the eyes of the church, I am not an alleged victim of clergy abuse. I'm a survivor.''
The church was also relieved to have a deal. ``It's a good day for the archdiocese,'' said spokesman the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne. ``And we haven't had too many of those around here the last couple years.''
Bergeron was one of a half-dozen accusers who attended a half-hour hearing before Judge Constance M. Sweeney where lawyers spoke of the exhausting path that led to a complex ``memorandum of understanding'' with the church.
Accusers have 37 days to opt into or out of the settlement pool, and lawyers expect to spend the next few days educating clients and other attorneys in one-on-one and group talks about the deal.
But the consensus yesterday among the eight weary lawyers who negotiated the pact with the help of mediator Paul A. Finn of Brockton was that clients were ready to settle and move on.
Details of the pact include:
$84,250,000 is to be set aside for the entire pool of 552 accusers.
$750,000 more is set aside for certain lawyers' expenses, with any money left over from that separate pool reverting to the settlement fund if it goes unclaimed.
Sex-abuse claimants will each receive a minimum of $80,000 but no more than $300,000. There are 523 in that category, and if all take part in the accord they would divide up a total of $83,670,000.
People claiming ``loss of consortium'' due to abuse of a loved one will get $20,000 apiece. There are 29 claimants in that category, and they would divide $580,000.
Those who opt into the main pool will see their cases go before an independent arbitration panel headed by Finn. Their awards will be calculated based on the nature, extent and duration of their molestation, and the degree of damage it is judged to have caused.
The names of all claimants will be kept confidential by the archdiocese, as will any therapy records gathered by the church's own victim-oriented Office of Assistance and Healing Ministry.
The total settlement pool will be reduced proportionately based on the percentage of victims who opt out. If 10 percent of victims refuse to join in, the settlement pool will be reduced by 10 percent.
The archdiocese will indefinitely cover the cost of therapy for victims - a commitment lawyers called a crucial aspect of the deal.
The archdiocese will add additional sexual abuse victims to church panels reviewing complaints against priests and implementing archdiocese abuse policy.
A third, new advisory board will consist largely of victims and relatives. The board will set up a resource library and a memorial or living tribute to abuse victims.
The Assistance and Healing Ministry will expand to include counseling for people who want to maintain their faith but have lost trust in church institutions.
All individual settlement awards will be deemed final.
The church must have all settlement cash on hand by Dec. 22.
The deal is the largest ever in a clergy abuse scandal. Lawyers generally receive a third of settlement amounts.
The $85 million has been approved by a panel of Archdiocesan Finance Council members, Coyne said. He said the church would inevitably have to sue its insurers to recoup some money, but it would raise what it needs for the pool by borrowing and other measures.
``We have 37 days to come up with a plan on how to do this,'' he said. ``We're looking at surplus property. We're going to go after insurance money very vigorously.''
Victims' lawyers - including Roderick MacLeish Jr. and Mitchell Garabedian, who represent the bulk of the plaintiffs - had clearly gotten past their differences of recent days and were unanimous is praising the accord and O'Malley's role in brokering it.
``This is not the ideal result, but this is the right result,'' said attorney Robert A. Sherman of Greenberg Traurig. ``The ideal result would be to give people back their youthful innocence . . . but we can only do what is humanly possible, and I believe we've done that.''
Attorneys also said they would vigorously represent any clients who might demand a day in court.
Sweeney, in agreeing to stay proceedings while the deal is finalized,
assured accusers yesterday ``that the courthouse doors remain open'' if
they choose that route.
By Robin Washington
Clergy sexual abuse plaintiffs weighing whether or not to accept the Archdiocese of Boston's proposed $85 million settlement offer responded with caution yesterday, voicing concerns over the language of the final agreement needed to cement the deal.
Among concerns expressed by victims and their advocates was any wording in the document absolving the church of fault - typical in most settlements - as well as language releasing the defendants or others from future claims.
``I'm not comfortable about that because of the information still being held in secrecy,'' Phil Cosgrove, an alleged victim of the late defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, said of the proposed release agreement.
Cosgrove, who said he had yet to decide if accepting the deal would be a ``slap in the face or a reflection of my exasperation,'' also worried about any confidentiality clauses in the agreement.
``That's the big one,'' he said. ``It's just really important that we know everything so that this doesn't happen again.''
Though the final document has yet to be drafted, Carmen Durso, a plaintiffs' lawyer who serves on the steering committee that hammered out the deal, said a confidentiality agreement would not be included.
But he said the tentative deal will probably halt the production of unreleased documents about alleged abusers and their supervisors, such as hundreds of pages of psychiatric records recently turned over to a plaintiffs' lawyer.
``(Superior Court) Judge (Constance) Sweeney entered a stay with regard to all pending matters. I don't think that there will be any more court-ordered production,'' he said.
Durso said he understands the plaintiffs' dilemma of deciding to join.
``They're giving up their right to sue,'' he said. ``What they're getting in return is a release from the statute of limitations and the (church's) charitable immunity protection and the (burden) of proving negligence. That's huge.''
Mary Ryan was the sole plaintiff against the Diocese of Providence to turn down a $400,000 settlement offer earlier this year because of concerns about confidentiality and the church's refusal to release priest records. But the Rhode Island alleged victim, whose suit was just dismissed because it was beyond the statute of limitations, said her decision was worth it.
``I don't regret anything that I've done because there's a healing in
it,'' said Ryan. ``I can't tell anyone what to do except listen to yourself
and what your heart says.''
By Eric Convey
For 552 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse, the final phase of their cases against the Archdiocese of Boston will take place before the Brockton mediator who brokered their $85 million offer.
Paul A. Finn and aides will apply a formula devised by plaintiffs' lawyers to determine how much of the $85 million individual victims receive. The smallest payments, according to a broad outline proposed by lawyers yesterday, would be $20,000 to kin of victims.
The payments to abuse victims would range from $80,000 to $300,000, with a few exceptions for those especially harmed.
``There will be many hearings and a great deal of work,'' said William Gordon, the partner of plaintiffs' lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who outlined the proposal in Suffolk Superior Court yesterday.
There will be two major considerations, according to the agreement: What happened? And how much does the victim still suffer?
``The only question is the degree of injury and damage sustained by the plaintiffs,'' said Thomas Hannigan Jr., the attorney brought in by Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley.
While victims who opt into the pool will agree not to file civil claims, the church also will leave some legal weapons unused.
Archdiocesan lawyers will not apply the statute of limitations to exempt cases from the settlement, nor will they invoke the law that limits liability for nonprofit organizations to $20,000 per victim.
Additionally, the church has agreed not to seek victims' counseling records in litigating cases. Hannigan said O'Malley ``sincerely hopes that all of the plaintiffs elect to participate in this settlement.''
O'Malley's spokesman, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, put the archbishop's position regarding victims succinctly at a news conference.
``He believes them. He wanted to try to end the kind of limbo they've
been in,'' Coyne said.
For some victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests they knew and trusted, yesterday's announced settlement is the last stop on what has been a long and painful journey. For many others it is merely the beginning of healing - the start of a process too long delayed by the empty pride and moral bankruptcy of church officials, most of whom are thankfully now departed from this city.
The money - $85 million to be divided among 552 plaintiffs and their lawyers - represents the only acknowledgement some victims will ever get of the grievous wrong they suffered. Because the statute of limitations has expired on so many of the crimes that were the subject of these civil lawsuits, many will never have the sense of closure that comes with seeing their abusers behind bars.
Making the Archdiocese of Boston pay for the crimes that church officials covered up for years is the only satisfaction they will know. And that acknowledgement of wrongdoing is the very least to which they are entitled.
By making this happen, first by changing the church's own legal team, then by taking his own seat at the table, Archbishop Sean O'Malley has given this archdiocese the new beginning it desperately needed. He has truly helped do God's work by attempting to set things right - at least as far as he is able.
That part of the settlement will be financed by the sale of church property, including a facility used to ``treat'' abusing priests, is also right. Trading bricks and mortar to help heal souls with money and counseling is a very good deal indeed.
It took enormous courage for these victims to acknowledge their abuse.
It took patience and courage of a different sort on the part of lawyers
to do battle with a powerful institution. And it took the moral courage
of one humble friar to put an end to this most sordid chapter in the history
of the Roman Catholic Church - so that it too may have a fresh start.
By Michael Paulson
As one crisis ends, another begins.
The Archdiocese of Boston's agreement yesterday to pay up to $85 million to settle 552 clergy sex abuse claims should, if accepted, end the devastating legal and financial uncertainty that has gripped this region's largest religious denomination for more than 19 months.
But the price of peace is very steep, and the church must now raise money and, potentially, cut services even as it attempts to heal the wounds opened by the scandal.
"Just because there's a settlement, that doesn't mean the pain has gone away from the church, and it doesn't take the pain away from those who have been hurt," said Monsignor George F. Carlson, pastor of Holy Name Church in West Roxbury. "This moves us, thank God, into another phase, but there are so many phases to this crisis."
Around Boston and the nation, Catholics hailed the emerging settlement as hugely positive for an archdiocese that has been devastated by revelations that nearly 250 local priests have been accused of molesting minors over the last six decades, and that, in multiple instances, those priests were allowed to remain on the job by bishops who knew of the alleged abuse.
"This is an important agreement," said Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said the Boston cases were among those that "precipitated 20 months of soul-searching by the church."
"It demonstrates that the church is committed to working out just settlements which seek to meet, to the extent possible, the needs of people who have suffered terribly," Gregory said. ". . . We are visibly seeking to heal our wounds caused by sexual abuse and moving forward as promised."
But some warned that the Boston settlement may have more impact symbolically than practically, as lawsuits in other dioceses around the nation will have to be addressed on their own terms.
"There was a big settlement in Dallas, and a big settlement in Santa Fe -- it's a different climate now, so this will get a lot more attention, but it's not entirely clear that this will have ramifications for the entire church," said John T. McGreevy, an associate professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. "There do seem to be quite radically different patterns in terms of the amount of litigation the dioceses are undergoing."
As dioceses around the nation attempt to settle litigation arising from the sexual abuse of minors by priests, one pattern is emerging -- the settlements, if not ruinous, are costly enough to force cuts in church programs. In the Archdiocese of Louisville, which this summer agreed to pay $25.7 million to settle sex abuse lawsuits, church officials recently announced spending cuts, an increase in the amount parishes must pay the diocese, property sales, and cancellation of grants for programs including the expansion of an archdiocesan high school.
"The consequence of paying out these large amounts is going to be reduced services by the church and greater burdens on the parishes," said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, editor of America magazine, a Jesuit weekly. "These large settlements are going to have consequences for dioceses for years, if not decades, to come, because we don't have a printing press for money in the basement. This money that's being paid out is money that will not go to support church services in the future."
In Boston, church spokesman the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne said the archdiocese will attempt to come up with the $85 million first from the church's insurance carriers and by selling surplus real estate. He said he did not know how the church would come up with the balance, but that it would not use money people have given to parishes, to the church's annual appeal, or to a recent capital campaign.
"This is not the end," Coyne said. "This is one good step toward bringing some kind of a resolution to the crisis, but many of the issues that have arisen, most especially the issues around the survivors and their families, still need to be addressed."
Despite knowing that the sex abuse crisis opened wounds that are not yet healed, and worrying about where the $85 million will come from, many Boston-area Catholics welcomed the deal.
Many interviewed yesterday credited Boston's new archbishop, Sean P. O'Malley, for settling the cases -- a task his predecessors were unable to accomplish.
"Without a fair and just settlement, you would never be able to begin the healing process in the Catholic Church, and certainly Archbishop O'Malley should be congratulated for being a man of his word," said Raymond L. Flynn, the former mayor of Boston and former US ambassador to the Vatican. "But you're taking away $85 million, on top of what has already been paid out, and this money comes out of the poor box. This has to be paid -- it's a responsibility and an obligation of the Catholic Church -- but the Catholic Church will now call on the people who can least afford it to really make the sacrifice."
Several people said the settlement amount is so large, they find it hard to fathom how it might affect church services.
"The numbers are beyond our imagining at this point, so you just say, `Only time will tell,' " said the Rev. John A. Dooher, pastor of Saint Mary Church in Dedham. But Dooher said even a steep settlement will ultimately help the church.
"The only way we'll ever get over the crisis is if the victims reach a point in their lives where they're able to forgive, and they can only do that if they feel their injury is understood and there's some healing," he said.
The Rev. John McGinty, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Lynn, agreed.
"With my little budget here, those dimensions are beyond me -- we take in about $5,000 a week," he said. "But this has to be a step toward a resolution of the terrible past that we have, and we've been waiting for it a long time."
Many people worried about where the money will come from.
"Anyone who has got their head screwed on right has got to feel that this is good news for the Catholic Church -- it's good news for survivors and good news for Boston, and it makes it possible for the archbishop to address a very large backlog of serious problems in the archdiocese," said James E. Post, the president of Voice of the Faithful, a lay organization. "But Archbishop O'Malley has got to make peace with the laity because these financial commitments are a mortgage on the future of the Archdiocese of Boston, and I don't think he can possibly do this without bringing the laity together in ways that haven't happened yet."
The money will not come directly from Catholic Charities or hospitals, both of which are largely financed by government grants and independent fund-raising. But clearly the crisis has hurt church services to the poor in a number of ways -- for example, the church's capital campaign performed less well than hoped, and a fraction of that campaign had been earmarked for charitable work.
"The way we were hurt in the scandal was with people who were reluctant to write checks to us because they were concerned the money might flow to the diocese, which it never has," said Neal F. Finnegan, chairman of the Catholic Charities board of trustees. "If the church regains its footing as a result of the settlement, and is viewed more positively by the faithful, contributions will rise, and Catholic Charities might be helped,"
Several people interviewed said they believe the church will now have an easier time raising money, even as it takes on huge debt.
"The archbishop has created a very significant amount of good will, and a lot of people are beginning to say, `How can I be of assistance,' " said Jack Connors Jr., the chairman of the advertising agency Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos.
"There is a new spirit, and a new sense that at least some of the bleeding has stopped, and now we begin to rebuild," he said.
Connors said he expects to see parish and school closings, but driven by economic and demographic factors, not by the settlement, and others agreed.
"If the scandal never happened, and if we didn't owe a nickel, we
would still be faced with the question of what parishes can remain open
and what schools can remain open," said Peter Meade, the vice chairman
of Catholic Charities. "But I think there's a sense that we have
an enormous task, and Archbishop Sean has literally been a godsend, and
through a combination of faith and hard work we'll be able to deal with
By Kevin Cullen and Stephen Kurkjian
The Archdiocese of Boston yesterday reached a tentative agreement with lawyers representing more than 500 people who say they were sexually abused by priests in which the church would pay the plaintiffs $85 million, the largest single amount ever in a case of clergy sexual abuse.
The agreement marked the dramatic conclusion to Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley's all-out push in his first weeks in Boston to bring closure to the abuse cases that made this the epicenter of what many consider the gravest crisis in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in America.
Under the agreement, the settlement will become final if 80 percent of 552 plaintiffs accept the offer within 37 days. All but a handful of the plaintiffs would be paid between $80,000 and $300,000, with the amounts set in binding arbitration overseen by Paul A. Finn, the mediator who oversaw the negotiations that led to the agreement.
It was at the Brockton offices of Finn's company, Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation, that O'Malley on Sunday night delivered his final offer to a steering committee of eight plaintiff lawyers, declaring that $85 million, $30 million more than an initial offer made four weeks before, was all the church could afford.
Plaintiff attorneys credited O'Malley's personal involvement in the negotiations, and his growing credibility in the eyes of abuse victims, with making an amicable agreement possible.
The steering committee recommended yesterday that the alleged victims, represented by more than 40 lawyers, accept the offer, and several lawyers said they expected the majority of their clients will do so. But it remained unclear whether enough will sign on to finalize the settlement. Lawyers for alleged victims said the deal would hold even if the number agreeing was less than 80 percent, but the amount would be reduced proportionately by each person who opts out and decides to pursue a trial.
O'Malley is seeking a swift end to a crisis that led to the resignation of his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, and caused deep questioning among the metropolitan area's 2 million Catholics about the credibility of a church hierarchy that allowed decades of abuse of children to go unreported to authorities. It also led to a stinging report by Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, who accused Law and his subordinates of covering up crimes and said they avoided indictment only because laws at the time didn't cover such negligence.
Besides money, the agreement calls for the archdiocese to include victims of sexual abuse on the boards and panels it has established to monitor abuse, to offer victims "spritual direction and spiritual counseling services," and to keep information about counseling and treatment it offers to victims confidential.
The actual amount paid to the plaintiffs would be slightly more than $84 million, as the agreement calls for $750,000 to reimburse lawyers for costs. Lawyers typically get a contingency fee of one-third, meaning that attorneys will split about $28 million, leaving about $56 million for the alleged victims. The largest individual payments would go to approximately 200 people who say they were raped or sodomized. Lesser amounts would go to some 300 people who say they were fondled, while $20,000 would be paid to each of the 29 parents who claim a loss of consortium because their children were abused.
If approved, the settlement will bring to $110 million the amount the cash-strapped archdiocese has spent to settle claims against abusive clergy since 1990.
While the amount offered would mark the largest single settlement for a group of cases of clergy sexual abuse, the per-victim amount would be relatively low when compared with other cases nationwide. Analyzing other cases, plaintiff attorneys had calculated that between $90 million and $120 million was fair compensation for the more than 500 alleged victims.
A pair of analysts with a victims' advocacy group, Survivors First, said the $94,000 that victims will receive on average under yesterday's agreement is the fifth-lowest of 15 other settlements that they analyzed. For example, analysts at BishopAccountability.org noted, the 36 victims who agreed to a settlement with the diocese of Providence last year will receive an average $225,000.
Yet the Boston settlement is not nearly the leanest. Under a deal signed by the Louisville, Ky., diocese this year, 243 victims will receive an average of $67,000, and the 176 victims who settled with the Manchester, N.H., diocese this year will receive an average of $53,000. Comparing average amounts in such settlements can be misleading, however, as the severity of abuse varies enormously from case to case.
"The agreement we reached had nothing to do with settlements elsewhere," said Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose law firm Greenberg Traurig represented about half of the Boston victims. "This is what the archdiocese was able to pay at the same time as bringing justice to our clients."
O'Malley was in Washington, D.C., yesterday and did not speak publicly about the agreement. But the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, told reporters the church was pleased the agreement had been reached.
"Our actions say we admit our mistakes, we've learned from our mistakes, and we're doing everything we can to make sure that they never happen again," Coyne said.
"It's a good day for the archdiocese and we haven't had too many over the past couple of years," Coyne added. "But this is one and I think many of us can take some consolation in this day and continue to pray that what has happened here can be a good start for the future healing that we need."
The tentative agreement followed two marathon bargaining sessions, one of which was attended by O'Malley, who on Sunday night underlined the finality of the $85 million offer by telling plaintiff lawyers, "Our credit cards are maxed out."
Finn convened the Sunday night meeting at his offices after a highly anticipated Saturday mediation session, at which O'Malley was scheduled to make a direct appeal to a group of about 10 alleged victims, was cancelled because of squabbling between plaintiff attorneys.
The Sunday night session began at about 6 p.m. and dragged on until about 12:30 a.m., as the two sides hashed out mostly nonfinancial items, including the timing of when the money would be paid. At about midnight, attorney Jeffrey A. Newman, a steering committee member whose firm Greenberg Traurig represents about 260 of the alleged victims, went to give O'Malley a document and found the prelate resting his head on a table.
"He was tired," said Newman. "We all were tired."
Despite his fatigue, O'Malley was credited with providing much of the final push to get the tentative agreement, just seven weeks after he was installed as the sixth archbishop of Boston.
"The archbishop's presence on Sunday was very helpful. He created a whole different tone," said Newman.
Thomas H. Hannigan Jr., O'Malley's lawyer, agreed.
"The pivotal moment was the archbishop's decision to participate directly, to meet with the plaintiff lawyers and have a candid exchange. I think it broke the back of the negotiations," said Hannigan.
While praising O'Malley, Newman's colleague, attorney Robert Sherman, also credited Finn for his persistence and his tactical finesse. Finn had presided over several other successful mediations involving cases of clergy sexual abuse, including those in the Fall River diocese when O'Malley headed it in 1992.
"We were under house arrest Sunday night," said Sherman. "Paul Finn provided no food, no drinks. I know it was deliberate because when you get tired and hungry you get awfully reasonable, awfully fast."
O'Malley was able to convince the steering committee representing the plaintiffs that the archdiocese was, as he put it, "maxed out" when it came to offering $85 million. That figure was $30 million more than the original $55 million O'Malley offered Aug. 8 to settle the claims. O'Malley upped the offer to $65 million two weeks ago, and to $75 million last Friday, lawyers said.
O'Malley told the steering committee that the archdiocese had prepared a financial analysis that concluded that $85 million was all the archdiocese could raise between loans and the sale of church property.
According to Sherman, O'Malley said no insurance money was being used, and Newman said the insurance companies were refusing to pay. O'Malley said anything more than $85 million could bankrupt the archdiocese, Sherman said.
It remains possible that Hannigan, the lawyer whom O'Malley named the day after his July 30 installation as the archdiocese's lead attorney for the sexual abuse cases, will sue the insurance companies to recoup some of the money. Hannigan successfully sued the insurance company that refused to cover an estimated $5 million settlement that O'Malley reached in 1992 with more than 100 alleged victims of a former priest in the Fall River diocese O'Malley headed until last year.
O'Malley's presentation Sunday night was apparently persuasive, because lawyers said they spent as much time negotiating when the money was to be paid, and who would set the individual amounts, as whether the total amount was all he could offer.
"We believed him because everything he has shown us since he got here is that, unlike Cardinal Law, he is honest and sincere," said Carmen L. Durso, a lawyer on the steering committee.
The archdiocese wanted to pay the settlement over 15 months, but the plaintiff lawyers were insistent that the money be paid by the end of the year. In the end, the archdiocese agreed to pay by Dec. 22.
The archdiocese made other concessions to close the deal, including dropping from 95 to 80 percent the number of plaintiffs who had to sign on to finalize the settlement, while offering to negotiate an even smaller number. The plaintiffs offered their own concessions, including their dropping a demand that the settlement include a provision to build a memorial in honor of victims.
It was in O'Malley's absence Monday afternoon, when the bargaining session resumed at the One International Place offices of Hannigan's law firm, Ropes & Gray, that O'Malley's secretary, the Rev. John J. Connolly, assumed a key role in the negotiations.
As O'Malley prepared to travel to a US Conference of Catholic Bishops committee meeting in Washington, Connolly convinced the plaintiff lawyers that mandating construction of a memorial was something the archdiocese fundamentally opposed. The plaintiffs conceded that argument to Connolly, but Connolly sided with the plaintiffs when Hannigan insisted that any plaintiff who signed off on the agreement would have to give up any claims against other priests in other dioceses.
"John agreed with us that that wasn't fair," said Newman. "John Connolly was very helpful in the end."
Monday's session began at about 2 p.m. and lasted until about 10:30 p.m. Lawyers gathered at Hannigan's office again yesterday morning to hash out a few unresolved matters before they began trying to sell the deal to their clients.
Many lawyers were confident they could persuade their clients that the deal was the best they can get.
"Most of our clients are comfortable with it," said Newman.
It remained unclear what plaintiff lawyers and the archdiocese considered the minimum figure for how many victims must agree.
"The 80 percent figure is not a game breaker," said Newman. "But if only 50 percent accept it, we have real trouble."
Yesterday afternoon, lawyers in the case privately briefed Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney, who is overseeing the case, on the agreement. Later, at a public hearing, plaintiff lawyer William H. Gordon said, "We can announce today to the court that . . . we have a framework for settlement."
Gordon acknowledged that the plaintiffs will receive, on average, less than the 86 alleged victims of Rev. John J. Geoghan who settled with the archdiocese last year for $10 million. But unlike that deal, he said, this agreement allows victims to continue to receive counseling paid for by the archdiocese.
Sweeney spoke only briefly to the lawyers, thanking them and their clients for their hard work in reaching the tentative agreement. And for those plaintiffs who opt out of the agreement, she said, "The courthouse doors remain open and we will continue with the process." Outside the courtroom, Sherman explained that the agreement was not a cause for celebration.
"This is not the ideal result, but this is the right result," said Sherman. "The ideal result would be to give people back their youthful innocence. We can only do what is humanly possible and I believe we've done that."
Walter V. Robinson and Kathleen Burge contributed to this report.
By Walter V. Robinson and Stephen Kurkjian
The Boston Archdiocese plans to raise most of the money it needs to pay for the $85 million settlement announced yesterday by mortgaging churches and other buildings in parishes slated to be closed in coming years, according to a church official.
With a settlement agreement in hand, the church will now conduct a survey of its properties in Eastern Massachusetts to determine which to mortgage. The church official, who asked not to be identified, said the most likely choices would be the churches and buildings in 15 to 20 parishes that the archdiocese had previously said would be consolidated to save on operating costs. At this point, none of the settlement money will come from insurance companies. The two insurers that have covered the Archdiocese for abuse claims are balking at paying any of the settlement, according to other church officials and lawyers involved in the agreement. Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley has not specified how he intends to raise the money to fund the settlement agreement, but in a private negotiating session on Sunday night he said that none would come from the insurance companies, Kemper and Travelers, according to lawyers who attended the session.
The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, said yesterday that it was "still up in the air" how the church will finance the agreement but acknowledged that the insurance companies had not agreed to provide any funds. He said that O'Malley would work "very, very vigorously" to persuade the insurance companies to pay their fair share.
But for the present, according to the church official interviewed by the Globe, the archdiocese has only about $15 million to commit to the settlement fund, money raised from the recent sale of real estate holdings.
But now that the settlement agreement has been reached, O'Malley intends to begin hard bargaining with Kemper and Travelers to persuade them to honor their policies, church officials said. If those talks fail, the officials said, O'Malley is prepared to sue the insurers in federal court. O'Malley has some experience with such litigation, having successfully sued insurers to help pay for the settlement of abuse cases in Fall River, when he was the bishop there.
An analysis last year by the church of its insurance program concluded that Kemper had $25 million in insurance funds still available to cover claims between September 1977 and March 1983, and that Travelers had $65 million to pay for claims during the years it covered the archdiocese, April 1983 through March 1989.
The insurance companies have refused comment on their dispute with the church. But the Globe reported last December that the insurers had sought to limit their exposure, saying Boston church leaders broke their insurance contracts by failing to remove from service priests whom they suspected or knew were abusing children. State and federal courts have consistently held that an insurance company can deny coverage of a claim if it is able to show that the harm resulted from the reckless behavior of its policyholder.
Last week, a church official said O'Malley ultimately hoped to raise $40 million from the insurance companies to finance the settlement agreement.
But unable to count now on insurance proceeds to cover the agreement, O'Malley had to commit to a multimillion-dollar mortgage program to raise the needed funds. The archbishop's decision, however, still needs the approval of the archdiocese's finance council, which must vote on all decisions involving more than $1 million. The council, which is composed mostly of well-regarded Catholic businessmen but chaired by the archbishop, has its next regularly scheduled meeting next Wednesday.
In the past, the council has exercised some independence from the archbishop. The council rejected, as excessive, the first request by Cardinal Bernard F. Law to pay victims of former priest John J. Geoghan in May 2002. But it later approved a less costly settlement, and went along with a request by Law to allow him to put the archdiocese in Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a means to deal with its looming financial problems.
The bankruptcy option was never used. Instead, the church chose to borrow $38 million from the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service organization with its national headquarters in New Haven, to cover its day-to-day expenses. In exchange, the archdiocese mortgaged the Brighton grounds on which its chancery and the residence of past archbishops is located to the Knights of Columbus.
All of the money borrowed last September has been used to pay outstanding debts or allow the archdiocese to operate, and none of it is available to contribute to the settlement, the official said.
Church officials declined comment on whether the archdiocese will again turn to the Knights or seek another lender. Paul R. Devin, supreme advocate of the Knights of Columbus, declined to say yesterday whether the archdiocese had approached him. "Whether they call us or don't, it's for the archdiocese to say," Devin said. "It is hard to gain any agreements when one side or another is answering questions from the press."
The financing costs of the huge new loans were also uncertain, though O'Malley made it clear to the lawyers on Sunday that $85 million in new debt was as much as the church could afford.
Although O'Malley announced last month that he was moving out of the archbishop's residence to the rectory of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, church officials have said that there are no plans to sell the Brighton property to raise the settlement funds. Boston College has expressed strong interest in buying the property.
Once he gets the approval of the finance council for the mortgage program, O'Malley will meet with financial advisers before deciding which properties to put up for mortgaging, Coyne said yesterday. The archdiocese this month announced that it was putting up for sale a residence it maintained in Milton to house some of the priests who had been accused of child abuse. But Coyne, said at the time the proceeds of the sale would not be used to fund any future settlement agreement.
Other dioceses and archdioceses have resorted to mortgages and property sales to pay for abuse settlements. For example: The Diocese of Dallas had to mortgage and sell property to pay $11 million that its insurance didn't cover to settle more than $30 million in claims against former priest Rudy Kos.
The Diocese of Santa Rosa in California had to sell some properties and mortgage others to help erase a $16 million debt that was related to sexual misconduct.
In May, the Providence diocese announced that it was selling the summer
residence of its bishop to help finance the $14.25 million settlement
reached in three-dozen sexual abuse lawsuits.
By Laurie Goodstein
aced with lawsuits from hundreds of people who say they were sexually abused by priests, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston fought back last year with legal tactics befitting any corporation under siege, at one point even trying to obtain the confidential notes of an accuser's therapist.
So the settlement reached yesterday between the Boston Archdiocese and 552 plaintiffs represents a remarkable turnaround. The archdiocese agreed not only to pay a record $85 million to compensate the victims and their families, but to meet demands that many plaintiffs had long pressed.
Among those, the archdiocese agreed that in addition to the $85 million, it would pay for as much mental health treatment as the plaintiffs say they need, with therapists chosen not by the church, as in the past, but by the plaintiffs.
For concessions like this, the settlement in Boston, where the scandal erupted 21 months ago, is a benchmark for leaders of other dioceses and religious orders.
"This is an important agreement," Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement. "It demonstrates that the church is committed to working out just settlements which seek to meet, to the extent possible, the needs of people who have suffered terribly."
The agreement was reached only six weeks after Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley took over the leadership of the Boston Archdiocese. Some Catholic leaders said yesterday that the settlement could put pressure on other bishops and leaders of religious orders who have been paralyzed in legal standoffs in sexual abuse lawsuits in dioceses across the country.
"I believe it will give the others enough courage to go forward to put this ugliness behind them," said Ray H. Siegfried II, chairman of the Nordam Group, an aviation company, who is a member of the national lay review board appointed last year by the nation's bishops to investigate the causes of the crisis and monitor the church's response.
Francis J. Butler, president of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, a Washington-based group representing Catholic philanthropies, said of the settlement, "It has great potential for getting things unstuck."
Victims' advocates have already signaled an intent to use the settlement to pressure other bishops. On Wednesday, the Milwaukee chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests plans to hold a news conference in front of the chancery to compel Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan into entering into mediation with people who say they were victimized there.
All five dioceses in Wisconsin have been immune to lawsuits because of a state Supreme Court decision that barred civil suits against churches.
"The archbishop in Boston in less than a month has done more than the archbishop here has done in a year," Peter Isely, the Milwaukee coordinator of the Survivors Network, said. "It's very disheartening for victims here to see things reaching resolution in other parts of the country, but because of our Supreme Court decision, the church here has not had an incentive whatsoever to budge and reach closure with victims and their families."
Participants from all sides of the scandal warned that the church still had a long path to travel to recover. Catholic dioceses, schools and religious orders are still being sued by people who claim they were abused because the church was negligent in supervising pedophile priests.
Also, starting in December, the bishops' conference says, it will release the results of studies on the extent of child sexual abuse in the church, the causes, and the dioceses' compliance with new abuse policies.
The bishops commissioned the studies, to be administered by a national lay review board and a child protection office led by a former F.B.I. official. Each diocese has been required to fill out a survey for a study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice tabulating how many priests molested how many children. Several church officials have suggested these reports are likely to contain disturbing information about the extent of abuse.
"Everyone needs to understand that this is not the beginning of
the end," said George Weigel, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public
Policy Center in Washington. "It may be the end of the beginning,
but it was a necessary ground clearing to start to restore a vibrant Catholic
life to the Archdiocese of Boston."
By Fox Butterfield
OSTON, Sept. 9 — The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston agreed today to pay $85 million to settle almost 550 lawsuits by people who say they were sexually abused by priests. The settlement is the largest ever by an American diocese to resolve sexual abuse cases.
The deal was reached after three days of intense negotiations, and it represents a personal triumph for Boston's new archbishop, Sean P. O'Malley, who in a highly unusual gesture met with lawyers and mediators on Sunday in a secret session that lasted till midnight.
Archbishop O'Malley took over in Boston only in late July, seven months after his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, resigned under pressure, and the new prelate made resolving the sexual abuse scandal his priority.
"Archbishop O'Malley's role was pivotal," said Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer whose firm represents 260 victims. "If he had not been present on Sunday, these cases would not have settled. He has a way with people, and he was able to make phone calls and arrange the money and several of the other conditions."
Under the terms of the agreement, each victim will receive $80,000 to $300,000. The amount will be determined by a mediator and be based on the type and duration of abuse, according to a memorandum of understanding submitted in court today. The archdiocese also agreed to finance psychological counseling for the victims.
The settlement represents a striking turnaround for the archdiocese, which under Cardinal Law used hard-line legal tactics to resist lawsuits from sexual abuse victims. And some Catholic leaders said the decision would put pressure on bishops in other cities to compensate victims.
All the awards will be paid by Christmas, the document says. This was a demand of the plaintiffs, Mr. MacLeish said, to avoid worries that the settlement would go on indefinitely. Mr. MacLeish credited Archbishop O'Malley for meeting that condition.
Most of the victims have not yet read the agreement, Mr. MacLeish said. At least 80 percent of them must accept its terms within 37 days for it to go into effect. Mr. MacLeish was optimistic that the condition would be met. Two victims, Greg Ford and Paul Busa, have said they will not participate in the settlement but are willing to work out individual deals with the archdiocese.
Other victims, however, expressed relief at the settlement. Gary Bergeron, 41, who says he was abused as a boy by the Rev. Joseph Birmingham, said: "From this day forward, in the eyes of you people and in the eyes of the church, I am not an alleged victim of clergy abuse. I am recognized. I am a survivor."
Bernard McDaid, 41, who was abused as a boy, said that after so many years of living with the experience of having been molested and then of the church's resistance to helping him, today's settlement seemed surreal.
"It's almost like, pinch me, is it real?" Mr. McDaid said.
The deal was made official when lawyers for both sides presented it this afternoon to Judge Constance M. Sweeney of Suffolk County Superior Court. Judge Sweeney has been overseeing the lawsuits.
Archbishop O'Malley was in Washington today, attending a meeting of the United States Catholic Conference. But a spokesman for the archdiocese, the Rev. Christopher Coyne, said in a statement, "We are pleased that the parties involved were able to arrive at what we feel is a just and equitable settlement offer to the plaintiffs and their families."
In a separate news conference, Father Coyne said that some of the $85 million for the settlement would come from the sale of up to 15 church properties. But most of it will come from church insurance policies. Church officials have said that Archbishop O'Malley will sue the insurance companies, if necessary.
None of the settlement money will come from parish funds or from Catholic Charities, the largest provider of services to the needy in Boston, Father Coyne said.
The lawyers will get automatic payments of $750,000 to cover their legal fees. Each law firm will also receive one-third of the amount each client gets in his settlement, a standard contingency fee, several of the lawyers said.
If any victim does not agree to arbitration or other items in the settlement, the total amount to be paid out will be reduced proportionately.
Mr. MacLeish said that several of the nonfinancial terms of the settlement were also critical to winning approval from the victims, and that here again, Archbishop O'Malley had played a crucial role.
Among these terms are a provision for continued free psychological counseling covered by the archdiocese, with the records to be kept confidential. Mr. MacLeish said that in the past the church had had access to the victims' counseling records and had tried to use them against the victims, in some cases. It deterred some victims from going for counseling, he said.
"On Sunday night, Archbishop O'Malley agreed to keep the information confidential," Mr. MacLeish said. In addition, Archbishop O'Malley also agreed to a demand to add victims to church boards that will examine archdiocese policies on priests accused of sexual abuse, Mr. MacLeish said.
In a telephone interview later in the day, Mr. MacLeish said that the archdiocese had agreed to consider setting up a library on church property to house 60,000 church documents and taped depositions gathered during the legal efforts. The materials, he said, would be available to the public. The archdiocese did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
The settlement is a major step in ending the sexual abuse scandal in Boston, one of the nation's most Catholic cities. Since the crisis broke in early 2002, it has seriously damaged the archdiocese, with attendance and giving at churches dropping and new organizations springing up to represent lay people and priests, both demanding a greater voice in the church.
Mary Jo Bane, a professor of public policy and management at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, said Archbishop O'Malley's action "was the most important thing he had to do" to restore confidence among Catholics in Boston.
"We don't know how he is going to be theologically," said Professor Bane, a Catholic who lives in the Dorchester section of Boston. "But a lot of things he has done are just right — not moving into the cardinal's fancy residence, not worrying about spending the money, and keeping his simple robes." Archbishop O'Malley wears the coarse brown habit of a medieval Franciscan over his sandals.
Archbishop O'Malley first earned a reputation for dealing with sexual abuse by priests a decade ago when he was made bishop in Fall River, an old industrial city south of Boston, that had been rocked by an earlier scandal involving a former priest, James Porter.
One of his first acts was to hire a Boston lawyer, Paul H. Hannigan Jr., to help him settle more than 100 lawsuits against the diocese resulting from Mr. Porter's sexual assaults on children. Mr. Hannigan negotiated the suits with Mr. MacLeish, who represented most of Mr. Porter's victims, and Mr. MacLeish recalled that he was easily able to establish a good working relationship with both Bishop O'Malley and Mr. Hannigan.
In turn, immediately after being installed as archbishop in Boston in July, Archbishop O'Malley hired Mr. Hannigan again, replacing the team of lawyers who had worked for Cardinal Law. Their aggressive tactics, including issuing subpoenas for the victims' psychiatric records, had generated great antagonism.
Nine days after being installed in Boston, Archbishop O'Malley made an initial offer of $55 million to settle the lawsuits here. When the lawyers for the victims rejected the offer, he soon raised it to $65 million.
Then, when the lawyers said that by their calculations it would take $90 million to $120 million to settle the suits, Archbishop O'Malley raised his offer again, to the $85 million figure accepted today.
As an indication of the how widely the sexual abuse scandal affected Boston, the Massachusetts attorney general, Thomas F. Reilly, concluded after an investigation that more than 1,000 minors were abused by more than 235 priests from 1940 to 2000, according to the church's own records. Many of the priests, after their misconduct was reported by the victims or their family members, were transferred from parish to parish by the archdiocese's leaders, without warning to the new churches, Mr. Reilly found.
The first case to become public, in a series of articles in The Boston Globe, was typical of these. It involved a priest, John J. Geoghan, who was accused of molesting almost 150 young people but was repeatedly moved from parish to parish with the approval of Cardinal Law and his predecessors. Mr. Geoghan, 68, was convicted last year of molesting a 10-year-old boy and sentenced to prison, where he was strangled last month by another inmate.
While today's settlement is the largest ever by an American diocese, the amount per person may be smaller than that received by victims in some other cases.
Lawyers for the victims said they believed the church would initially
have to borrow money to make the $85 million payments by Christmas.
The settlement reached between the Archdiocese of Boston and sexual abuse victims yesterday represents a recognition by Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley of the seriousness of the scandal and offers some compensation for the damage of sexual abuse. While imperfect, like all such settlements, it is a powerful indicator that the archdiocese is committed to helping abuse victims recover and preventing children from being victimized in the future.Beyond the $85 million monetary offer, the archdiocese is acknowledging the harm done to the victims by men acting with the authority of the priesthood. Counseling will also be offered to show that the archdiocese is committed to help the victims after the money is distributed.
Much of the settlement will go to compensate lawyers for their work on the case. Without suits initiated by the lawyers, however, the full extent of abuse would not have come to light. And the great number of plaintiffs -- more than 500 -- provides graphic evidence of the extent of the scandal. Had the archdiocese acted decades ago to acknowledge the abuse and remove abusers from ministry, the settlement would have been far less expensive.
O'Malley, installed as archbishop six weeks ago, has acted with extraordinary speed to settle the lawsuits. His single-mindedness suggests that he will be equally diligent in maintaining policies to protect children from abuse.
Some of the $85 million could have been spent on the traditional charitable
activities of the Catholic Church. The archdiocese of Boston has been
accumulating real estate and other assets for 150 years or more. It can,
if necessary, sell or mortgage some of this property to pay for the settlements.
O'Malley clearly understands that, more than land or buildings, it is
the spiritual foundation and moral credibility of the Catholic Church
in Boston that must be rebuilt.
By Thomas Farragher
After reviewing a tentative $85 million deal to settle hundreds of clergy sexual abuse cases, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney looked up from her bench yesterday and reminded victims that there remains an alternative to the costly deal struck in private.
"The courthouse doors remain open," she said.
But lawyers for more than 500 people who say they were sexually abused by priests told Sweeney that they expect an "overwhelming majority" of their clients to ratify the agreement, accepting cash payments in return for surrendering their civil claims against the church. For the deal to become final, 80 percent of the victims must sign on within 37 days.
"Everybody says it's not about the money, but in the long and the short of it, it is about the money," said Thomas Blanchette, who said he was repeatedly abused by the Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham at Our Lady of Fatima parish in Sudbury in the early 1960s.
"I'm not in it for the money, but I've come to understand that the higher cost to the archdiocese, the more vigilant they will be in the future," said Blanchette. "I want them to understand the severity of all this. We just want to get this over with."
Plaintiffs' lawyer William H. Gordon told Sweeney that most of the victims covered by the tentative agreement have yet to see its details and neither have their attorneys. But once that happens later this week, he said, lawyers expect nearly all of their clients to settle.
William Oberle, an alleged victim of the Rev. Paul Mahan, who was defrocked in 1998, said he will not be one of them.
"I don't think so," said Oberle. "I don't think it's enough for anybody. It's like they're trying to get a volume discount. I don't go for that. I don't care for that. I want to go to trial."
But as he stared into a phalanx of reporters and television crews in a park across the street from the courthouse where the tentative agreement was announced, Gary Bergeron of Lowell blinked back tears as he tried to explain what the deal meant to him.
"This piece of paper means one thing to me and to many men that I represent here today," said Bergeron, also an alleged victim of Birmingham. "From this day forward in the eyes of you people, in the eyes of the church, I am not an alleged victim of clergy abuse. I'm recognized. I'm a survivor. That's been a very painful journey."
Bergeron said there has been no poll taken among Birmingham survivors to determine whether the deal announced yesterday is acceptable to most victims.
"My sense would be it's time for people to make a choice and it's an individual choice," he said.
Olan Horne, another Birmingham victim, said he has not yet read the entire proposal and could not say with certainty that he would endorse it.
"This is not about money. This is a gratuitous `thank you' that I will get," said Horne. "You want to know what number I would be happy with? There isn't a dollar amount. What is this? This is for me to be able to take and say, `OK. We can start over here again.'
"This whole system isn't set up to deal with my healing process. It has nothing to do with it. It's a separate issue."
Bernie McDaid, who hugged Horne in Sweeney's courtroom after the judge had left the bench and more than a dozen lawyers exchanged handshakes, agreed.
McDaid, who said he was abused by the Birmingham in Salem 40 years ago, a key piece of the deal is the archdiocese's agreement to extend therapy to victims who still need it.
"I came forward on a simple premise," he said. "This has to stop. This has to stop for the children, and we today are a step closer to that being a reality."
Gordon, who helped negotiate last year's $10 million settlement of claims against defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, who was strangled in his prison cell last month, said there is a strong sense among plaintiffs' lawyers that those who balk at the deal will be in a distinct minority.
"Every victim has to decide this, but the members of the committee got a sense that a number of their clients would accept this . . . Nobody has been able to explain the details yet because we didn't have an agreement until today," he said. "The dollars here are in the range last year in the Geoghan case. They're paying very close to that money."
Jeffrey A. Newman, a lawyer for the Boston firm Greenberg Traurig, which represents more than 260 people who have filed claims against the archdiocese, said he spent the last 10 days contacting victims, trying to assess their support for the emerging deal.
"We had to have a sense of where it will go," Newman said. "So I contacted 50 people over the last 2 1/2 weeks and I had a very high percentage rate of individuals who really wanted to go forward. We can't guarantee that that is true sampling, but we have a good sense that at least 95 to 97 percent of those individuals will go for this."
One victims' advocate, David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said if the Boston deal is ratified it will send a signal to bishops around the nation that reconciliation can be attained quickly.
"If this can happen in weeks in Boston, why can't we the bishops cut the hardball tactics in other cities?" Clohessy asked. "I hope people will see if you come forward there is at least a chance, however slim, of some degree of closure. It's crucial to remember that no amount of money will bring back those stolen years and that innocence and that self-esteem. But for some this will be an important acknowledgment that serious crimes did happen."
Bergeron agreed. "For the last 18 months Boston has been an example
of everything -- everything -- that could be wrong with the church,"
Bergeron said. "If the archdiocese of Boston uses this document and
they continue on the steps that they have started to take with the installation
of Bishop O'Malley, Boston and the archdiocese have an opportunity, an
obligation and a chance to become everything that is right with the church."
By Kevin Cullen
Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley is a Franciscan friar who cares little for money, but when trying to convince a room full of lawyers that he could offer no more than $85 million to settle the claims of more than 500 people who say they were sexually abused by priests he used the lingo of someone attuned to the bottom line.
"Our credit cards are maxed out," O'Malley told the lawyers Sunday night, as they huddled inside the Brockton offices of Paul A. Finn, the mediator who brought the two sides together for what turned out to be the beginning of the end of the long, arduous legal portion of the clergy sexual abuse scandal that engulfed the fourth largest archdiocese in the United States.
O'Malley's earnest approach worked. He persuaded the lawyers who had sued the archdiocese that it would go broke if it paid more than $85 million. He stuck it out all night Sunday, showing his fatigue only by, at one point, resting his head on a table as Finn shuttled between the various parties. And by yesterday, with more concessions from O'Malley's top aide in hand, the plaintiffs' lawyers were ready to sign an agreement and urge it on their clients.
While Sunday night's personal appeal by O'Malley to the plaintiffs' lawyers provided a dramatic coda to the legal odyssey, it was O'Malley's low-key but persistent private appeals to alleged victims that made yesterday's tentative agreement possible and will make or break the deal, according those at the center of the negotiations.
They give great credit to O'Malley's effort to convince the victims that he was sincere in wanting to transform a dry, legal process into something more like an act of healing. It was a strategy first employed by O'Malley and his handpicked lawyer, Thomas H. Hannigan Jr., 11 years ago when they settled more than 100 claims against a priest in the Fall River diocese O'Malley then headed.
And it was a strategy that proved successful again when O'Malley convinced the lawyers representing most of the plaintiffs that besides financially compensating victims for the abuse they suffered at the hands of priests, he wanted to help make them spiritually and emotionally whole.
"This was never just about the money," said Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose law firm, Greenberg Traurig, represented some 260 of the plaintiffs, and who represented nearly all of the victims who settled with the Fall River diocese in 1992. "And there hasn't been one momentous breakthrough. It's been an evolution, an evolution of good faith."
MacLeish's colleague, Robert Sherman, said that O'Malley had established his credibility with plaintiffs and their lawyers before he arrived for the 6 1/2 hour session Sunday night.
"That same message coming from Cardinal Law would have been dead on arrival," said Sherman. "When Archbishop O'Malley said he couldn't give any more, we accepted it. We tested what he said, but we have come to accept the archbishop as a man of honesty and integrity."
O'Malley's offer to meet last Saturday with a group of alleged victims in a formal mediation session was the most dramatic of several carefully considered gestures he has made since his July 30 installation as archbishop to demonstrate that he wanted to be as sensitive to them as they contend his predecessor was not.
The day after his installation, in one of his first public acts, O'Malley pushed aside Law's longtime lawyer, Wilson D. Rogers Jr., who had antagonized alleged victims with his hardball tactics, and made Hannigan the archdiocese's lead lawyer on the abuse cases.
A week later, O'Malley offered to settle the cases for $55 million. The plaintiffs dismissed the offer as too low, but after a year of what they considered church foot-dragging, it was the speed and resolve O'Malley had shown that impressed them most.
"We accomplished more in the last month than we had in the previous 18," said Carmen L. Durso, a lawyer who represents 42 people with claims against the archdiocese.
Outside the negotiations, O'Malley was slowly but surely winning over a growing number of alleged victims who had been bitterly alienated by Law's response to the scandal.
Gary Bergeron, 41, who said he had been abused by the late Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham in Lowell, was among 15 alleged victims who met privately with O'Malley at a home in Hudson, N.H., two days after the initial settlement offer.
Two weeks earlier, Bergeron had put aside his anger over the archdiocese's response to the scandal by attending O'Malley's installation. Bergeron seemed to speak for an increasing number of those with claims when he said, "I think O'Malley really cares."
Not everyone agreed. Another alleged victim spit on Bergeron as he entered the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to attend O'Malley's installation.
The changes that O'Malley quickly ushered in were as much about style as substance. Law and his lawyer had used an adversarial approach to litigation, which many considered insensitive given the nature of the abuse alleged and the church's pastoral mission.
In marked contrast, Hannigan told the plaintiffs that O'Malley was willing to drop all defenses and not challenge any of the allegations. Legally speaking, O'Malley was saying, "I believe you."
Of the seven main provisions of the initial proposed settlement, the plaintiffs took special notice of the last one, in which the archdiocese promised to "continue in place its counseling program for abuse victims, whether or not they opt into the settlement, as a separate and ongoing pastoral program."
It was, lawyers said, the first time that the archdiocese acknowledged that whatever the financial outcome, the plaintiffs would be dealing with psychological scars for years to come.
The plaintiffs were miffed, however, by another of the seven points, which said that the offer was contingent on at least 95 percent of claimants opting to accept the settlement within 30 days. That seemed too many like the church once again dictating terms. But as Hannigan continued to meet with the plaintiff steering committee, the archdiocese gradually backed away from that demand, agreeing to an 80 percent threshhold, and pushing the negotiations forward.
The negotiations took on an even more somber tone after former priest John Geoghan, a serial pedophile, was killed in prison by another inmate Aug. 23. It was Geoghan's repeated attacks on children, and the way his superiors covered up his crimes, that blew open the scandal in the first place. While it stirred a variety of emotions among alleged victims, Geoghan's death served to focus minds and attention at the mediation sessions.
"I think it reminded everyone of the seriousness of the situation. Lives were literally at stake," said MacLeish. There were other reminders, he said. "In the middle of this, one of our clients died unexpectedly. He left behind an 18-year-old daughter."
What was being said outside, even on the altar, was being scrutinized, too. O'Malley did not offer prayers in public for Geoghan, who had been treated leniently by Law. O'Malley's not mentioning Geoghan publicly was interpreted by some alleged victims as being a gesture of sensitivity aimed at them.
"I can tell you one thing," said MacLeish. "It was noticed."
Also noticed by victims was O'Malley's response to the family of Gregory Ford, a 25-year-old Newton man who says he was raped by a priest almost 20 years ago.
When Ford, who said the Rev. Paul R. Shanley abused him, suffered an emotional breakdown a week after Geoghan was killed, O'Malley immediately agreed to pay for specialized residential treatment for Ford. O'Malley had met privately with Ford's parents, Rodney and Paula Ford, and pledged to do whatever he could to help their troubled son.
Last year, Law's lawyer had sent a legal response to the Fords' lawsuit against the archdiocese, suggesting the parents were negligent in allowing their son to be abused.
Rodney and Paula Ford, who had done so much to point out the failings of Cardinal Law, were now vouching for his successor, an endorsement that carried enormous weight inside the tight-knit milieu of alleged victims and their lawyers.
"It was a major change," Rodney Ford said in an interview. "They reached out to my son at a time of need, no questions asked. This guy [O'Malley] has done everything he can since he got here to change the way things were done before, and he should get credit when he does the right thing."
Complicating the search for a deal, meanwhile, were differences over tactics among plaintiff lawyers as the push for a settlement intensified. With millions of dollars in fees at stake -- lawyers usually get a third of cash settlements -- and plenty of media attention, personality conflicts between some of the lawyers flared.
In particular, MacLeish and Mitchell Garabedian clashed. At one point two weeks ago, after insults were hurled, MacLeish left a mediation session at One International Place, the downtown office tower, and walked under what remains of the elevated Central Artery, to sit at Rowes Wharf and watch the boats in the harbor while trying to collect his thoughts. Apologies were offered over cellphones, and soon MacLeish was back at the negotiating table. He thanked Finn, the mediator, with "keeping things cool."
But Finn could not avert last Friday's breakdwon, when a highly anticipated mediation session Saturday between O'Malley and a group of about 10 alleged victims was canceled after lawyers at Greenberg Traurig accused Garabedian of courting a media circus outside the mediation session. Garabedian, whose legal pursuit of Geoghan had been the catalyst for exposing the scandal, countered that it was MacLeish and his colleague Jeffrey A. Newman who publicly announced that O'Malley was going to attend the session.
But the spat was not allowed to derail the larger effort. On Saturday, Hannigan called Finn, who scheduled a Sunday night mediation session. Finn suggested that O'Malley come along.
On Sunday night, the eight lawyers on the steering committee made their pitches to O'Malley and Hannigan, O'Malley made his to them, and Finn shuttled back and forth between offices as the two sides hashed out the details.
When the parties gathered again Monday at Hannigan's offices, O'Malley was preparing to leave for a meeting in Washington, and so his secretary, the Rev. John J. Connolly, attended the session in his place and helped clinch the deal. Connolly said the archdiocese opposed building a memorial to victims as a condition of the settlement, but got Hannigan to back off insisting that any alleged victim who accepted the archdiocese's offer could not pursue separate claims against other dioceses.
Yesterday, lawyers spent hours drafting and redrafting the eight-page tentative agreement. The promise of a successful conclusion had even led to a thaw among some lawyers. MacLeish and Garabedian's associate, William H. Gordon, traded laptop computers as they revised the agreement.
By midafternoon, with the signatures on the agreement, Hannigan and Connolly were on Hannigan's speaker phone, giving O'Malley the news in Washington.
"The archbishop," Hannigan said, "was pleased."
Walter V. Robinson of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.
By Denise LaVoie
Boston - Most victims' lawyers weren't expecting a breakthrough when they were called to a hastily arranged session aimed at a settlement deal with the Boston Archdiocese over more than 500 clergy sex abuse lawsuits.
Especially not after more than 18 months of failed negotiations and an embarrassing internal squabble two days earlier that had scuttled a planned meeting with Archbishop Sean O'Malley.
Going into the meeting Sunday at the offices of mediator Paul Finn, where they were surprised to find O'Malley waiting for them, the two sides were at least $15 million apart. The archdiocese had offered $75 million, but the victims' lawyers were asking for a minimum of $90 million.
That gap was closed when O'Malley gave a final, take-it-or-leave-it offer: $85 million.
They took the deal, announced Tuesday.
"He explained his limitations, on what the archdiocese could do, given its financial problems," attorney Jeffrey Newman said. "He said, 'Our credit cards are tapped out, and this is the amount we can do.'"
Some said no amount of money could compensate the victims for the pain and suffering of being molested or raped by a priest. But they went on to explain how they arrived at figures that might bring the kind of acknowledgment that could help some of the victims to move on.
Under the agreement announced Tuesday, victims will receive awards ranging from $80,000 to $300,000. Award amounts will be decided by a mediator, based on the type of molestation, the duration of the abuse, and the injury suffered. Parents who filed lawsuits claiming their children were abused will receive $20,000.
"This piece of paper means one thing to me and many men I represent here today. From this day forward I am not an alleged victim of clergy abuse. I am recognized, I'm a survivor," said Gary Bergeron, who sued for molestation by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham.
The archdiocese also released a statement saying in part that it is "committed to doing everything humanly possible to make sure that this never occurs again. Our prayer is that this may, with the help of God, become a reality."
The lawyers who attended Sunday's meeting said O'Malley's presence made all the difference.
"He listened to us, which was such a step above the lack of communication we had with the archdiocese before Archbishop O'Malley was appointed," said Newman.
This was not the first time O'Malley had been personally involved in settlement negotiations. Eleven years ago, when he was bishop of Fall River, O'Malley met with victims and sat in on negotiating sessions. Eventually, the diocese settled for an undisclosed sum with 101 victims of the Rev. James Porter.
O'Malley immediately began to push for a settlement after being installed as Boston's archbishop on July 30. His first day on the job, he shook up the legal team that had represented the archdiocese through months of stalled negotiations, bringing in Boston attorney Tom Hannigan, who had helped him settle the Fall River cases. A week later, O'Malley made a settlement offer of $55 million.
Tensions between the two sides and infighting between the victims' lawyers sometimes boiled over, but never to the point where one side was ready to walk out on a deal.
Eight victims' lawyers were elected to sit on a steering committee that represented all 57 plaintiffs' lawyers. The lawyers often met late into the night and on weekends, leaving nerves frayed.
"It was exhausting for everyone," said attorney Mitchell Garabedian.
Newman and Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose firm, Greenberg Traurig, represent 260 victims, said the firm devoted 10 lawyers, two paralegals and one social worker to work full-time on the cases over the last two years.
"There were thousands and thousands of hours worked on this," MacLeish said.
Garabedian started working on clergy sex abuse cases long before the current scandal. His first client who accused defrocked priest John Geoghan of abuse walked into his office in 1994. Last year, Garabedian negotiated a separate $10 million settlement for 86 Geoghan victims.
Last week, a special negotiating session where O'Malley was supposed to hear directly from 10 victims was canceled after MacLeish and Garabedian had an embarrassing public tussle over who had sought the most press coverage.
But at a news conference to announce the settlement, the victims' lawyers were all smiles and compliments.
"I think that's directly attributable to Bishop O'Malley,"
said attorney Bob Sherman. "He's come into this archdiocese with
a vision, and he's a man of incredible personal integrity, and that sets
the tone for the kind of discussions we were having."
By Emelie Rutherford firstname.lastname@example.org
Bellingham -- Eighty-five million dollars doesn't mean much to Joseph O. Fleuette III, one of 20 alleged victims of former Assumption Parish pastor Paul M. Desilets.
Sure, Fleuette, 39, saw on the news last night that he'll get a chunk of that cash, a proposed settlement from the Boston archdiocese. But money doesn't mean healing to Fleuette, a divorced father of a 9-year-old daughter in Bellingham.
"That'll end the legal process, but where do we stand after that," Fleuette said. "I mean, I'm not a better person today than I was yesterday."
Fleuette wants to see the church reach out to the victims. Still, he's not sure he's ready to accept its counsel.
"(Boston Archbishop Sean Patrick) O'Malley's looking very good, he's doing everything that came down that (former Archbishop Bernard) Law didn't," he said. "But from my point I already trusted one man when I was a kid and now I'm being asked to trust another."
Fleuette and 19 other alleged victims claim the now retired Desilets molested them when they were altar boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Law resigned last December after the Boston archdiocese's longtime cover-up of serial abuse by priests became public. O'Malley pledged to settle two years of legal wrangling when he took over in July.
Fleuette, who served in the Army and now works in remodeling, said he does not know how much money he would receive from the proposed settlement. Media reports say figures for victims will range from $80,000 to $300,000. A mediator will determine the award amounts based on the type of abuse, duration of abuse and the injury they sustained. The number of people who agree to the offer will also determine the amount individuals receive.
"That's kind of the lowest part of whole (process of healing)," Fleuette said about the money.
"The litigation will be over, it will be done with," Fleuette said. "My concern is, is the church throwing the money to hush the victims up? Or beyond that, will there be the counseling, actually talking to the victims, making the right from the wrong in the Catholic church?"
Fleuette had not talked to his lawyer, Jeffrey A. Newman of the law firm of Greenberg Traurig in Boston, when contacted last night. Yet he said he saw Newman on TV discussing the settlement.
"I haven't been making the weekly phone calls to the attorney," he said.
Newman had filed a civil lawsuit on behalf on Desilets' alleged victims in Suffolk Superior Court. Named as defendants are Bishop John McCormick, a former personnel manager in the archdiocese; the Boston Archdiocese; and Law.
Separate from the proposed settlement, Desilets faces criminal charges.
The former Assumption Parish pastor was indicted in 2002 by a Worcester County grand jury on sexual abuse charges. He was arrested in Canada, where he lives, last October. He is still in Canada and fighting extradition to Massachusetts, where he faces a trial for 16 counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, 10 counts of indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older and six counts of assault and battery.
"I'm going to be in court when that happens," said Fleuette, who wants to work as a court advocate for children who have been sexually abused.
"A lot of people are looking for vengeance," Fleuette said. "Vengeance is not going to help me. I can put the old man away, but will it stop the (bad) dreams? No."
Neither will yesterday's proposed settlement, he said.
"That's not the quick cure," he said. "That's not even
close to the quick cure. That was phase one."
Boston-AP -- The multimillion dollar settlement struck between the Boston archdiocese and alleged victims of clergy sex abuse is getting mostly good reviews.
Gary Bergeron, who says he was molested by the Reverend Joseph Birmingham in the 1970's, says the 85 (m) million dollar agreement means he is no longer an "alleged victim." Instead, Bergeron says he's a survivor.
The national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, warns that the healing is just beginning. David Clohessy says the story is far from over.
Luise Dittrich with the reform group Voice of the Faithful praises Archbishop
Sean O'Malley for driving both sides to a settlement just weeks after
his July installation. She says O'Malley must put the same effort into
reaching out to disenchanted church members.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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