BOSTON MA – JOHN J. GEOGHAN (9/20/02)
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ARCHDIOCESE ABANDONS DEAL IN GEOGHAN CASE
By Stephen Kurkjian and Walter V. Robinson firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
The Archdiocese of Boston yesterday abandoned its agreement to make monetary payments to 86 victims of serial pedophile John J. Geoghan after Cardinal Bernard F. Law's hand-picked Finance Council rejected it, citing concerns that its cost would leave the archdiocese in grave financial peril.
The decision provoked cries of betrayal from lawyers for alleged victims of clergy sex abuse.
Even officials close to the Catholic Church expressed concern that the decision would lead to protracted and damaging litigation that could take years to resolve.
The archdiocese said in a statement that the 15-member council of lay business people had overruled Law and his lawyer, Wilson Rogers Jr., who wanted to go ahead with the agreement, which was to cost the church and its insurers between $15 million and $30 million.
Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer for the Geoghan victims, reacted angrily, saying that Rogers had assured him on Thursday that the agreement would be honored.
Garabedian said the cardinal was ''despicable'' for ''the way he lied to my clients. How does this entity call itself a church when they treat children so inhumanely, when they allow children to be raped and then they lie to them like this?
''How anyone could belong to this church is beyond me - and you can quote me - when its cardinal has no respect for human beings,'' added Garabedian. He expressed skepticism that the Finance Council was acting against Law's wishes.
Instead of paying Garabedian's 86 clients up to $30 million, one of the Finance Council members said there was a consensus that all of the priestly abuse victims - who may number up to 600, including the 86 in the Geoghan case - would have to be content with sharing in a settlement that would not exceed $50 million.
The council, under canon law, must approve any expenditure of more than $1 million. Law said in a statement that he accepted the decision of the council. Last night, officials said they doubt that the council has ever rebuffed Law or any other cardinal.
Archdiocesan Chancellor David W. Smith, in the statement and in a subsequent interview, said the Geoghan settlements alone - without factoring in the flood of new plaintiffs - could have placed ''at risk the mission of the church.''
Before the mushrooming scandal began in January, the archdiocese faced claims from 90 Geoghan victims and 48 victims of other priests. But since then, the Globe has reported, more than 500 people who say they were also molested by priests have retained lawyers. Already, 150 new claims have been filed.
One official who was involved in the issue said last night that in mid-January the same Finance Council approved the $15 million to $30 million deal. When the tentative agreement with Garabedian was reached in March, Law issued a statement of support for it. And Rogers went before Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney and told her that his clients - Law and 16 other church officials, including five bishops - were prepared to sign it.
The official, who asked that he not be identified, said he believes Sweeney will not take kindly to the church's decision to renege on the agreement. Garabedian said he would seek an emergency court order on Monday to take a deposition from Law, which was postponed when the tentative agreement was reached.
However yesterday's decision is viewed by a watchful laity, one former archdiocesan official who is familiar with church finances said last night that the decision is the clearest evidence yet that the settlement costs, and the dramatic fall-off in giving, have driven the archdiocese to the brink of bankruptcy.
Tomorrow, parishes throughout the archdiocese will collect funds for the Cardinal's Annual Appeal, which last year raised $16 million - a large portion of the Chancery's annual operating budget. In the backwash from the scandal that has engulfed the archdiocese, there are concerns that the collection will raise less than half what it did last year.
The decision could also affect the cardinal's already diminished standing with Catholics, though some may see it as a reassuring sign that the church intends to take a hard line to protect its fiscal solvency - and battle the growing number of plaintiff lawyers who typically receive one-third or more of any settlement.
''The cardinal does not have enough good will to be reneging on any agreement,'' said the former church official, who asked that he not be identified. ''This is a compassionless response at the worst possible time.''
In rejecting the Geoghan settlements, the Finance Council recommended to Law a fixed ''non-litigious global assistance fund for all victims,'' paid from a pool of money that would not be ''crippling [to] the ability of the archdiocese to fulfill its mission.''
Under such a plan, victims would have to agree not to file lawsuits in return for payment of counseling and smaller settlements. Under the Geoghan agreement, in contrast, mediators would have decided the actual total payments that could not exceed $30 million. Under that plan, some Geoghan victims would have received settlements of more than $500,000 each.
The only alternative - and one that some lawyers last night vowed to take - was to take the archdiocese to trial. But under Massachsuetts' ''charitable immunity'' law, even the winner of a multimillion-dollar verdict could collect only $20,000. Until now, that cap has prompted lawyers to settle out of court for larger sums, with the archdiocese paying more in return for keeping the allegations secret.
Jeffrey A. Newman, who now has more than 100 alleged victims as clients, said the archdiocese's decision yesterday will almost certainly lead to a challenge to that law. Newman, among other lawyers, believes that the cap may not apply to acts, such as rape, committed by employees of a public charity.
The council urged Law to petition the Massachusetts court system to establish a new process for mediating the cases, according to council members, who asked not to be identified. A retired judge would be named by the court as a mediator to hear victims' allegations and determine how much money each should be paid to settle their cases.
In interviews after the decision, council members said the church would have to make major sales of church properties to settle the other claims that have arisen since January.
''It's the only way that we can finance this thing,'' said one official who attended the meeting. But some council members said they believe Law may only have a limited number of properties he could sell, chief among them the 60-acre site on the Newton-Brighton line where St. John's Seminary, the Chancery, and Law's residence are located. Boston College has already signaled its interest in buying that property.
Smith said last night that the council did not discuss what properties might be sold to finance any settlement fund.
Even though he was aware of the financial peril that the archdiocese would face by approving the Geoghan agreement, Law continued to seek the council's approval of the deal, Smith said.
''The cardinal believes that this agreement was negotiated in good faith and the archdiocese should go forward with it,'' Smith said. ''He has always said that he lives with the painful truth that there are no easy answers here.''
Regina A. Caines, an administrator at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who serves on the council, said that the council members were seeking to balance the need for compensation for Geoghan's victims with claims by others with similar claims.
''That's our professed hope, that there will be fairness and equity overall,'' Caines said. ''It's such a never-ending situation, one wonders about just making sure everyone is treated fairly and equitably.''
But the issue of fairness for Geoghan's victims dominated much of the reaction.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said: ''This is simply grinding salt in the wounds of these poor men and women. For years, survivors have said, `Be careful, you can't trust the word of church leaders,' and this just proves that our skepticism and our worst fears are realized again.''
Clohessy added: ''These people clearly need and deserve help right now.''
Smith said the archdiocese has already paid about $30 million to settle sexual molestation cases before this year, with about a third of that from church funds. The Globe reported in February that over the last five years the archdiocese sold 60 percent of its stocks and 98 percent of its bonds to raise some $20 million in revenue, even as its other costs have risen and revenues have dropped.
Against that backdrop, lawyers who represent alleged victims said they would take the church to trial, if need be, rather than agree to the capped fund the archdiocese wants to impose.
Carmen Durso, one of those lawyers, predicted that Law will effectively become a full-time witness under oath. And lawyers will press for more embarrassing church documents.
''Some lawyers will say that Law should get on the witness stand and stay there,'' said Durso. ''The question will be: How bad can we make him look? How many times can we do it? How much can we embarrass him?''
Michael Rezendes of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.
The statement released yesterday by David W. Smith, the Archdiocese of Boston chancellor:
This morning, consistent with the requirements of Canon Law, His Eminence Bernard Cardinal Law brought to the Archdiocesan Finance Council for its consent, the matter of the proposed settlement with the 86 alleged victims of John Geoghan.
Wilson Rogers Jr., counsel for the Archdiocese, explained to the Finance Council the history and timeframe of the discussions, which led to the agreement in principle concerning settlements. That agreement has been accepted by all of the alleged victims.
The council members expressed grave concern. Their concern was based on the fact that the proposed settlement would consume substantially all of the resources of the Archdiocese that can reasonably be made available and therefore, such an action would leave the Archdiocese unable to provide a just and proportional response to other victims.
While acknowledging the members' concern about the growing number of claims, the Cardinal and attorney Rogers nevertheless urged the members to vote in favor of the proposed settlement. Their argument was based on the fact that the agreement had been reached in good faith, although circumstances have changed dramatically since the process leading to the agreement began.
Notwithstanding the Cardinal's request for support, and for the first time since Cardinal Law came to Boston in 1984, the Finance Council did not grant the Canonically required consent.
In declining to approve the settlement the Finance Council members unanimously advised the Cardinal to develop a mechanism which will provide all necessary counseling for the victims and their families. They also advised him to come up with a non-litigious global assistance fund for all victims. Such a fund is to be in an amount consistent with the resources that can be made available without crippling the ability of the Archdiocese to fulfill its mission.
Cardinal Law expressed his deep regret at the vote, particularly in light of the fact that the Finance Council had previously been briefed on the proposed settlement and had expressed, at the time, a desire to see it go forward. The Finance Council members however, in declining to grant their approval, stated that they felt it was necessary to balance the diocesan response in the interest of greater justice to the full group of alleged victims.
The Cardinal ended with an expression of his appreciation to the members
for their support of the concept of funding a fair and equitable plan,
which will allow healing and reconciliation to continue.
By Walter V. Robinson and Michael Rezendes
After months of bitter back-and-forth and the collapse of one agreement the Archdiocese of Boston embraced but then rejected, 86 plaintiffs in sexual abuse lawsuits against defrocked priest John J. Geoghan and church officials have agreed to accept $10 million to settle their claims, the plaintiffs' attorney announced yesterday.
Mitchell Garabedian, the attorney, said he expects Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney to ratify the agreement at a hearing this morning. If Sweeney goes along with the agreement, Garabedian said, he will hand archdiocesan lawyer Wilson Rogers Jr. settlement documents with 86 signatures and Rogers will hand him a check for $10 million.
But, he said, it will be a settlement without reconciliation: There will be no formal apology by the church for Geoghan's serial abuse, and no opportunity for statements in court by the victims, who will end up receiving, on average, about half of what the church agreed to pay in March. In May, the archdiocese's Finance Council voted down the agreement, declaring it too expensive.
''My clients,'' Garabedian said, ''feel that the archdiocese just does not care about them, and it's time for them to leave this darkness and move on with their lives. They have no faith in what the archdiocese says.'' Even if there were to be an apology, he added, ''it would be too little, too late.''
Donna M. Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said she could not comment on the agreement. But, in response to Garabedian's remarks, she said the archdiocese ''regrets any instance in which a child has been sexually abused ... It's horrific, and a heinous act of evil.''
Morrissey cautioned that the settlement will remain ''tentative'' until Sweeney accepts it. Garabedian, however, said the only remaining legal technicality is for Sweeney to accept the favorable recommendation of a court-appointed guardian for the only one of the 86 victims who is still a minor. Sweeney is widely believed to have encouraged a settlement.
The leader of a national victims group hailed news of the agreement, noting that it was Garabedian's lawsuit, and the courage and persistence of the plaintiffs, that helped expose the nationwide scandal of clergy sexual abuse.
''I just pray that this provides some comfort and closure and healing to these people who have suffered so long and so severely and so needlessly,'' said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. ''It shows that some justice - not true justice - can be achieved when victims have the strength to come forward and stay united.''
Clohessy, who struggled to keep his composure when he learned of the agreement, said Geoghan's victims had become national symbols for those abused by priests since the scandal broke in January. ''They should feel extremely proud. If they had not stepped forward, literally thousands of victims might still be trapped inside secrecy and shame.''
Meanwhile, legal observers described the settlement as having potentially huge implications for other abuse cases in Boston and across the country.
Timothy J. Conlon, a Providence lawyer who just settled 36 claims against the Diocese of Providence for $13.5 million, said the Geoghan settlement could be a precursor to more settlements by victims of other priests. ''If they've managed to settle one set of claims, it establishes credibility in the process, and I would think that would provide an incentive for everyone to talk,'' said Conlon.
Other lawyers say they expect the archdiocese to seek to use the reduced Geoghan settlement as a benchmark for settlement of the estimated 300 pending abuse claims.
Geoghan, who was convicted of sexual assault earlier this year, is serving a nine- to 10-year prison sentence. He still faces another trial on charges of child rape.
Yesterday's breakthrough came when Garabedian obtained the last of the 86 victim signatures from Janet Greene, the mother of two Geoghan victims from Saugus who are also part of the settlement. Greene said in an interview yesterday that she signed the settlement only because she was told she was the last holdout and did not want to be responsible for blocking financial payments to the 85 other alleged victims. ''I'm just so tired of crying and feeling that I have the responsibility for all these people. I just had to make a decision,'' she said.
But Greene was sharply critical of the church, insisting that Cardinal Bernard F. Law had short-changed the victims. ''This settlement should have been fair but it's not even close,'' said Greene. ''The cardinal and his lawyers should be ashamed of themselves. I'm not sure how a man of the church, a cardinal and a leader, can justify this.''
Mark Keane, an alleged victim of Geoghan's abuse, said he is relieved that his years of fighting the church have come to a close but also criticized Law and church officials. ''These spiritual leaders have conducted themselves like the corporation they are,'' Keane said. ''They've acted very immorally.''
Under the original agreement, drawn up after months of secret negotiations overseen by mediator Paul A. Finn, the 86 plaintiffs - 70 of them victims and 16 of them relatives of the victims - would have split between $15 million and $30 million, with Finn basing the individual settlements on his assessment of the severity of the abuse and the damage suffered by each victim. The estimated cost of that settlement was between $20 million and $22 million.
The 86 plaintiffs fall into three broad groups: the 16 relatives; 20 others to whom Geoghan exposed himself when they were minors; and 50 people who suffered serious sexual abuse over the 30-year period when Geoghan was shuffled through six parishes even though a succession of bishops and Cardinals Humberto S. Medeiros and Law knew that he was a child molester.
Under the earlier agreement, the parents would have received $10,000 each. The 20 victims Geoghan exposed himself to would have divided $1.5 million, or an average of $75,000 each. And the 50 who were seriously victimized would have received settlements ranging from about $150,000 to as much as $900,000 each.
In an interview yesterday, Garabedian said the relatives will retain their $10,000 payments. The 20 exposure victims will average about $27,000 each. And the 50 other victims will split $9.3 million of the $10 million. With no mediator involved in the final settlement, Garabedian said he has set the payouts: Three victims will get $94,000 each. The 47 others will receive higher payments, with the highest at $313,000.
Like other attorneys who file similar lawsuits on a contingency basis, Garebedian will receive a percentage of the settlement, but he has declined to say how large a percentage. Typically, however, plaintiff attorneys receive at least one-third of the total. Although some attorneys have settled such claims quickly, most of the 86 claims against Geoghan have been fought with the archdiocese for more than three years.
Lawyers in other high-profile church abuse cases said that while the archdiocese might hope use this settlement as a model for settlements with other victims, attorneys for those victims will doubtless press for significantly higher amounts.
Sylvia Demarest, who negotiated a $31 million settlement for 12 victims in a Dallas case, said the settlement ''seems like good news for the diocese. It's a lot less than they were contemplating previously.'' Whether this case sets a precedent for other settlements depends on several factors, she said, including how tough-minded victims and their lawyers are about pushing forward to a trial.
''If the clients and the attorneys have the financial strength to go the distance, that has a big impact on any settlement,'' she said.
Garabedian said he hopes the settlement will bring some measure of closure for his clients. But Greene, though her payment has not been reduced, said reconciliation will be difficult for her.
''I feel like I'm being abused again. It's not closure; it's ridiculous,'' she said. She did, however, give Garabedian credit for working to expose how Law and other church officials allowed Geoghan to remain in active ministry after they had been credibly informed that he had molested children. ''What this should represent is a deep and profound apology for the damage that was done, but it's nothing. It isn't an apology. It's just scattering crumbs to the people and telling them to get out of the way.''
Matt Carroll of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.
By Michael Rezendes firstname.lastname@example.org
With praise for the victims of a pedophile priest and for his supervisors in the Boston archdiocese, a superior court judge yesterday accepted a $10 million settlement of 84 lawsuits against defrocked priest John J. Geoghan and church officials, ending one of the most highly publicized cases of clergy sexual abuse on record and setting the stage for negotiations over hundreds of additional claims against Cardinal Bernard F. Law and the archdiocese.
As a half-dozen Geoghan victims looked on, Judge Constance M. Sweeney congratulated them for their resiliency and courage and credited them with increasing awareness of child sexual abuse and saving other children from suffering a similar fate. ''You made a fundamental difference in the way many people - including people who are secular authorities and religious authorities - look at the way institutions have to care for those they are bound to protect,'' Sweeney said.
Sweeney also praised the ''supervisory defendants'' in the case - the 16 church officials who were sued - for their willingness to forge a settlement. ''With respect to the supervisory defendants, I know each and every one of them has compromised their strongly held position that they took every reasonable step within the purview of their offices and had no intent or knowledge that harm was being caused by Mr. Geoghan,'' Sweeney said.
Donna M. Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said the $10 million award to victims was covered by third party insurance companies and an archdiocesan insurance fund, and that neither operating funds nor the proceeds of property sales were used. ''Not one cent of the settlement came from the Cardinal's Appeal, the capital campaign, or Sunday collections,'' Morrissey said, referring to the three principal means used by the church and local parishes to raise money.
Because of yesterday's agreement, Sweeney said she would issue no ruling on whether church officials breached a contract with the victims when they reneged on an earlier, higher settlement offer. The agreement formally accepted yesterday contained no provision to allow Geoghan's victims to describe the abuse they suffered in open court, a request made by some after the church retracted its initial settlement offer, and did not require church officials to apologize for any specific actions.
But after yesterday's hearing Morrissey issued a general apology to victims on behalf of Law, saying the cardinal hopes the settlement marks ''a significant moment in the healing process.'' Morrissey also said, ''Cardinal Law's sorrow expressed for people experiencing such pain and suffering due to sexual abuse is only compounded when such acts involve betrayal of trust by a priest. For that he apologizes from the depths of his heart.''
But Geoghan's victims said they took much greater solace from Sweeney's remarks, in which she acknowledged their persistence through years of legal proceedings. Sweeney also assured the victims that because Geoghan defaulted on the accusations leveled at him in the 84 lawsuits resolved yesterday, the court considers the allegations true.
''There is no question from the point of view of the civil side that Mr. Geoghan either raped or assaulted you or members of your family,'' Sweeney said. ''Mr. Geoghan did in fact do what you said he did to you.''
''Those words were honest words. That was exactly what I wanted to hear,'' said Patrick McSorley after the hearing. McSorley, a 28-year-old Hyde Park man who was molested by Geoghan when he was about 12 years old, attended many court proceedings. ''We were sitting there, we were noticed by her, and that was very comforting,'' he said.
Geoghan is serving six years of a nine- to 10-year prison sentence for groping a boy in a swimming pool and is facing additional child-rape charges.
Although yesterday's agreement marks a significant turning point in the clergy sexual abuse scandal that erupted in January, the archdiocese will have to settle or defend in court an estimated 300 additional claims, more than a dozen of which have been lodged by alleged Geoghan victims not covered by yesterday's settlement.
Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer for the victims, said he will be ''pressing many more cases of sexual abuse by clergy involving priests in the Boston archdiocese,'' about 16 of which are claims made by alleged Geoghan victims.
But Garabedian also indicated that any settlement negotiations are likely to be highly contentious. Talks between lawyers for the church and Garabedian took a bitter turn in May when the church backed away from a $15 million to $30 million settlement it had announced in March.
Garabedian said that under yesterday's agreement, 16 relatives of abuse victims each will receive $10,000. An additional 20 plaintiffs, to whom Geoghan exposed himself, will receive about $27,000. And 50 other victims will divide $9.3 million. If the average payment to the 50 direct victims is used as a benchmark, the archdiocese could spend more than $50 million to settle the remaining 300 sexual claims.
Lawyers representing victims of clergy sexual abuse in other dioceses have noted that the $10 million Geoghan settlement is much lower than those reached in other parts of the country and have said they are concerned the Geoghan deal could be cited in other settlement negotiations.
Yesterday, Mark Keane, a 33-year-old New Hampshire man who was molested as a minor by Geoghan at the Waltham Boys and Girls Club, apologized to other clergy sexual abuse victims ''for setting a precedent for such a low settlement amount.'' But he also said he and others felt they had little choice, given the likelihood that the church would have appealed a court ruling upholding the larger award. ''Another three to five years in court is for many an impossible avenue,'' Keane said. ''These people are tired and emotionally spent.''
Local lawyers, for their part, scoffed at the idea that this settlement would set financial boundaries for future settlements. ''We are paying no attention to it all,'' said lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose firm, Greenberg Traurig, represents 237 alleged clergy abuse victims. ''Jury sensitivity, based upon surveying we have done, shows that the jury's reaction to those who allegedly protect child abusers is very, very poor,'' MacLeish said.
Carmen Durso, a lawyer representing 28 people who say they were molested by clergy members, also rejected the idea that the Geoghan settlement sets parameters. ''You can't say that anyone who is injured is entitled to the same degree of compensation,'' said Durso. ''Everyone and every case is different.''
By Thomas Farragher email@example.com
They were the little boys who long ago knelt at altars with John Geoghan, the smiling cleric who took them out for ice cream and lured them upstairs to his darkened rectory bedroom.
Geoghan's victims had watched their former parish priest lose his Roman collar, his reputation, and his freedom. And yesterday, when church lawyers delivered $10 million to settle an epic civil lawsuit with 86 plaintiffs, they struggled to register the event.
There was an emptiness, a melancholy, a sense of resignation and exhaustion. But no victory. It felt, they said, more like defeat.
All those zeroes on that check will not salve their souls, they said.
''The money is not going to change my life,'' said Patrick McSorley, 28, who was molested by Geoghan at age 12. ''My heart is always going to be broken because of this. I mean these are people my family once loved. And they let something go tragically wrong.''
As they sat in the courtroom in Boston yesterday, where lawyers in dark suits and a woman in a dark robe affirmed the settlement deal, the men with sober faces bore little resemblance to the smiling young boys whose families welcomed Geoghan into their homes with a reflexive trust and a deference that today are relics of the pre-scandal church.
[Photo Caption - After the settlement, attorney Mitchell Garabedian comforts Nancy Greenlaw, who carried a childhood photograph of her son John Brian Greenlaw to court. He died of a drug overdose in 2001 at age 33. Globe Staff Photo / David L. Ryan]
[Photo Caption - Victims Patrick McSorley, left, and Mark Keane speak to reporters after the settlement. Globe Staff Photo / David L. Ryan]
Mark Keane, 33, first encountered Geoghan in the mid-1980s, when he lived around the corner from the Boys & Girls Club in Waltham, where the popular priest was a frequent presence. It was there that Geoghan addressed the teenager by name and brought up things about Keane's family life that were hardly common knowledge. Geoghan, Keane said, then pushed him into a space beneath a staircase and performed oral sex on him.
''I'll go home with this money, not even enough to make me debt-free,'' Keane said. ''It will not pay for counseling that I'll undoubtedly need for the rest of my life. It will not take away my depression, anxiety, and especially will not return my spirituality and my faith or my innocence.''
McSorley said Geoghan's attacks were assaults on his dignity. And he said he felt ostracized by the church's conduct during the long-running civil lawsuit that terminated yesterday.
Still, when archdiocesan attorney Wilson Rogers Jr. extended his hand after a hearing before Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney, McSorley shook it.
''Why? Because I'm a human being. That's why,'' said McSorley, who said he was molested by Geoghan after the priest took him out for ice cream in the late 1980s. After the assault, he swore the boy to secrecy.
Rogers told the victims: ''Best of luck. I hope everything goes well.'' But the church's lawyer seemed taken aback when the mother of one of Geoghan's victims confronted him with a framed photograph of her son at age 7. Nancy Greenlaw believes her son's death by drug overdose last year is directly linked to his sexual abuse by Geoghan.
After John Brian Greenlaw died last year at age 33, his mother found letters in which her son discussed his abuse by Geoghan. ''He felt like God had raped him,'' Greenlaw said.
''All the money in the world isn't going to mend my broken heart or bring my Brian back. He's gone forever because of the abuse and the church's inaction,'' she later tearfully said before cameras in a courtroom hallway.
''They should have known better,'' she said. ''They should all be ashamed of themselves. And I want them all to remember his face because this is my son that they took from me, my Brian.''
Like most of Geoghan's victims, Frank Leary stayed blocks away from the courtroom where Judge Sweeney yesterday praised the victims for their courage and told them their searing allegations against Geoghan now had the legal power of fact. ''Mr. Geoghan did in fact do what you said he did to you,'' she said.
So Leary wasn't there to hear those words from which many victims said they took some solace. Instead, he reported for work at the downtown building where he works as a carpenter. Like many of the plaintiffs, Leary said he felt worn down by the process, and disappointed by the outcome.
''I had no choice but to take the settlement,'' he said. ''I couldn't take another five years of this. It sort of went on and on and on. I just caved in. I couldn't take it.''
Leary was 13 in the spring of 1974 when Geoghan served at St. Andrew Church in Jamaica Plain. He said Geoghan invited him upstairs to his room in the rectory, where he promised to show him a stamp collection. The priest, he said, assaulted him there and then told him to pray with him. Within a week, it happened again.
After the second attack, Leary recalls an elderly priest barging into the room and telling Geoghan to stop. Leary fled and for years told no one about the assaults.
''My main goal was to secure a stable household where I can raise my kids,'' said Leary, now the father of two. ''I'm not going to have enough money to buy a house. Maybe I can get an apartment for a few years until the kids are old enough to move out. I think this is a major defeat, really.''
Leary said it is too painful for him to even think of Geoghan, now imprisoned for groping a 10-year-old boy in a swimming pool in 1991.
''He's getting served breakfast, lunch, and dinner and he's all alone in isolation,'' said Leary. ''He's just not able to go home. He's not suffering too much. If they put him in general population, I would feel better about it. But I can't really think about those kinds of things. It's not easy to.
''But I do wish him the worst.''
Michael Rezendes of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.
By Tom Mashberg
An emotional Superior Court judge yesterday praised the courage of the victims in the John J. Geoghan abuse suit, but surprised some onlookers by also lauding Geoghan's former Archdiocese of Boston supervisors for their actions in the bitter three-year case.
After formalizing a $ 10 million payout for 86 people abused by Geoghan dating to the 1960s, Judge Constance M. Sweeney gazed past a phalanx of lawyers and into the teary faces of the defrocked and jailed cleric's victims, near the rear of her Suffolk County courtroom.
"You are to be admired for the fact that you stayed the course, you got to this point," she told them. "I hope you are able to recognize in yourselves not just the hurt that was done to you but your own resilience, your courage."
But after a long and heartfelt speech praising the Geoghan victims for forcing the church to open its eyes to child abusers in its ranks, Sweeney offered a nod to the very supervisors who oversaw Geoghan during his reign of abuse.
"The supervisory defendants acquitted themselves with dignity," she said, "and with the intent to lessen the suffering of those individuals who have been assaulted."
[Photo Caption - Settlement: The Archdiocese of Boston cut this $ 10 million check for the victims in the John J. Geoghan abuse suit.]
After the brief hearing, one Geoghan victim, Patrick McSorley of Boston, said the judge's words to him and fellow victims on hand, among them Mark Keane of New Hampshire and Nancy Greenlaw of Boston, "were very comforting."
But he said he saw nothing dignified in the way defendants such as Bernard Cardinal Law handled the case, which was derailed in May after the archdiocese reneged on a March agreement that would have netted victims twice as much.
"All Cardinal Law and the church have done is cover up, lie and mislead us," he said. "But I'm going to try to move on, to bring closure to this chapter of my life."
Law, who was in Rome for the funeral of a Vietnamese cardinal, approved a statement that read in part: "Cardinal Law is grateful a fair and equitable settlement could be reached today and the long and painful litigious process could be avoided for all of those involved.
"His Eminence continues to pray for the survivors of sexual abuse and he hopes that for those who have suffered the effects of such sinful and evil acts, today's settlement will be a significant moment in their healing process."
Church officials said the money - given to Garabedian in the form of a $ 10 million "official check" from Citizens Bank - came from third-party insurance companies and archdiocese insurance funds.
That payout is victory for the church, which has sought to limit its Geoghan payouts to set a precedent for future settlement costs, and to confine its liability to what it carries in insurance coverage.
Keane, whose abuse at Geoghan's hands was some of the most grotesque laid out in the lawsuit, apologized after the session was completed "for setting a precedent for such a low settlement."
"I can assure you not one of the victims is happy with this agreement," he said. "The money comes from their insurance. The church's $ 1 billion in property is safe and the Geoghan 86 are off the pads."
Mitchell Garabedian, lawyer for the 86, said his clients agreed in the end to the deal because they are emotionally spent, adding: "My plaintiffs have demonstrated that money means far less to them than it clearly means to the supposedly moral and compassionate church."
After Sweeney adjourned yesterday, Nancy Greenlaw of Jamaica Plain, mother of deceased Geoghan victim John Brian Greenlaw, approached archdiocese attorney Wilson D. Rogers Jr. with a picture of Brian at age 7 - his age when Geoghan began abusing him.
"This is my son," she told Rogers, who listened politely as his co-counsel stood by. "He passed away last year. I want everybody to remember his face. I want everyone to know the church and its actions killed my Brian."
By Marci Hamilton firstname.lastname@example.org
Recently, in Stogner v. California, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional California's law retroactively lifting the statute of limitations on child abuse. The Court held that the law violated the Constitution's Ex Post Facto Clause, which prohibits certain retroactive criminal laws. The purpose of the Clause is to protect citizens from arbitrary government action changing the legal status of actions that occurred in the past.
Abuse victims were deeply and understandably upset by the decision in Stogner. As a result of the ruling, predators bound for prison got off scot free. For some, it seemed too much to bear.
But the Supreme Court had little choice. Upholding California's law would have required a rather drastic revision of the Ex Post facto prohibition.
The real fault is not with the Court, but with state legislatures. The statute of limitations for child abuse in California, and in many other states, is simply too short.
Why Child Abuse Statutes of Limitations Must Be Lengthy to Address the Crime
Some of the ugliest comments in the clergy child abuse scandal have been by defenders of the Church who have argued that since the child knows what is happening during the abuse, a short statute of limitations is fair.
Not only are their comments cruel, but their premise is inaccurate. Children often live with the ugliness of child abuse for years, held within themselves, precisely because they are not certain exactly what happened, or how to judge it. They need maturity to comprehend the situation.
It is understandably hard for a child to fully understand that the fault belonged to a trusted, revered authority figure, charged with interpreting the word of God - and not to the child himself or herself. A child's mind may find it hard to reckon with the idea that the same figures who meted out advice, and in some cases, sanctions, now deserve sanction themselves.
He or she may also wrongly feel somehow culpable in the abuse, especially if he or she did not fight against it, or tell anyone else about it. When abusers offer "love" and gifts in a bid to guarantee the child's silence, the guilt may only intensify.
For this reason, it is all the more important that the victim sees his or her abuser eventually go to prison for their crimes. Even when many years have gone by, the victims still feels a sense of justice and safety. The prison term validates the victim's experience; society's fingering the one who is really to blame frees the victim from guilt and feelings of implicitly culpability.
In light of these realities, it is only fair to extend, if not eliminate, the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. There is no statute of limitations on murder. And because the abuse so often kills the child's innocence and childhood, the analogy is not inapt.
Some states have accordingly abolished any statute of limitations for criminal child abuse - and other states should follow their lead.
Abolishing the Statute of Limitations May Prompt Confessions
Among other benefits, abolishing child abuse statutes of limitations may prompt confessions - confessions that the victims desperately need to hear - and settlement. That is exactly what occurred in one case after California retroactively extended its child abuse statute of limitations, and before Stogner negated the extension.
The case arose when two men in their thirties came forward to allege that, as altar boys in the 1970s, they had each been abused numerous times by the same priest - Edward Lawrence Ball of Our Lady of Fatima Church in San Bernardino, California. (Neither boy had previously known about the other's abuse.)
The result was to prompt Ball to confess to molesting the boys, and also to prompt a record settlement. Under the settlement, the archdiocese and an Illinois religious order, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, agreed to each pay $2.1 million to the men. (The men did not settle their claims against Ball himself, however.)
After Stogner, Ball was released from jail. In theory, the Court could have demanded reconsideration of the settlement. But it did not - probably due to Father Ball's confession and the outrage prompted by the abuse he committed.
As the victims have stated repeatedly, these lawsuits are not about money. Rather, they are about teaching the Church a lesson it sorely needs to learn: It is responsible for the children who come into contact with its priests.
Settlement Versus Jury Trial: Which Is the Better Option for Victims
The resolution of the two men's case against Ball leaves open a larger question: Are settlements or jury trials the best option for child abuse victims?
One advantage of a jury trial is that it can place responsibility exactly where it belongs. For instance, the Dallas diocese lost a civil trial based on Rudy Kos's sexual abuse. The jury found that the diocese had committed fraud and engaged in a conspiracy to cover up the sexual abuse, and awarded the plaintiffs $119.6 million. When it rendered its verdict, the foreman read the following brief statement: "Please admit your guilt and allow these young men to get on with their lives." The courtroom, by all accounts, erupted in applause. (The plaintiffs later settled for $23.4 million, probably to avoid endless appeals, but the point had been made - and made very publicly.)
The recent settlement reached with the Boston archdiocese was not nearly as satisfying a vindication for victims. Originally, the agreement would have been for $30 million. But the Church - despite its ability to go after its insurer for the money - claimed it could not go on with its mission to aid other victims if it paid that much. The claim seems dubious, to say the least: Later investigation revealed approximately $160 million in land holdings alone.
In the end, the Boston settlement had victims apologizing to other victims for getting so little. They explained that they just could not go on with a seemingly endless process that prolonged the pain.
That is certainly a reasonable consideration. But victims should think twice before accepting a settlement in lieu of a trial. As difficult as a trial may be for victims, it offers an opportunity to have their community--via the jury--express its outrage on their behalf, which can have a strong healing effect. In the Dallas case, for instance, the victims - once isolated - through the trial found supporters to condemn the Church's wrongs in no uncertain terms.
Victims may, in the end, find greater satisfaction in airing the crimes and wrongs to a jury of persons from their community - not just to the attorneys negotiating their settlement. It is hard for a settlement to match the justice rendered by that Dallas jury in 1997 - and more victims should persevere to seek that kind of justice, which they deserve.
Bishop Accountability © 2003
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