Bishop Accountability

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Figure still below plaintiffs' minimum

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 8/22/2003

Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley yesterday increased the Archdiocese of Boston's settlement offer to alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse from $55 million to $65 million, a figure far less than the 542 plaintiffs requested last week but still the largest ever offered in this country to settle such claims, according to people involved in the settlement talks.

A small group of lawyers representing the plaintiffs told the archdiocese last week that they believed the Boston clergy abuse case, considered by many to be the worst scandal in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States, was worth between $90 million and $120 million, sources said. O'Malley made the initial $55 million offer on Aug. 8.

Yesterday's offer continued a brisk and reportedly cordial two weeks of negotiation between the archdiocese, lawyers for victims and two professional mediators. But it also revealed that the two sides remain significantly apart on both money and other issues.

The Church offer is $25 million less than the minimum figure given by the plaintiffs, and the two sides apparently still differ on whether the archdiocese will participate in the process of determining how much each victim will receive.

Both sides declined comment yesterday on the new offer. Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer for Boston firm Greenberg Traurig, which represents more than 260 people who have made sexual abuse claims against the archdiocese, said that ''leaks to the press are destructive, not constructive.''

''The steering committee is not going to be saying anything,'' said MacLeish, referring to the six lawyers who are negotiating with the church on behalf of all the victims.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, the chief spokesman for the archdiocese, said yesterday that he would ''abide by the agreement between the parties not to comment on the substance of the mediation talks.'' The lead attorney for the archdiocese, Thomas H. Hannigan Jr., said only that he had ''nothing to comment'' on as he left a motion hearing on one of the abuse cases yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court.

The archdiocese's newest lawyer, William J. Dailey Jr., however, told Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney yesterday that ''the hope of the archdiocese and Archbishop O'Malley is that a resolution can be reached soon.''

The hiring of Dailey, a seasoned litigator from the Boston firm Sloane & Walsh, who made his first appearance on behalf of the church yesterday, was interpreted by some lawyers involved in the case as a signal from the archdiocese to plaintiffs that the Church is preparing to go to trial if a settlement cannot be reached.

Other lawyers, however, said they believed Dailey, whose firm specializes in insurance work, was hired primarily to assist the archdiocese recover money for the settlement from its insurance companies.

MacLeish said yesterday that he welcomes Dailey's entry into the case.

''I've known Bill Dailey for years,'' MacLeish said. ''When he says something, I know it's the truth. I always welcome the involvement of good trial lawyers in this case, I don't take it as a sign that the archdiocese is bringing in the heavy muscle.''

MacLeish and the other plaintiffs' lawyers have also refused to comment on their own offer made last week, which, unlike O'Malley's proposal, contains a $30 million range of possible payouts to victims.

People involved in the talks, however, said that the plaintiffs' lawyers reached the figure of $90 million to $120 million by analyzing each of the more than 500 claims, coming up with the range of compensation for each victim based on the abuse each suffered and amounts awarded in similar cases, including last year's $10 million agreement between the archdiocese and 86 victims of the Rev. John Geoghan.

Among the more than 500 claims, nearly 200 are from the category considered by lawyers for plaintiffs to be the most serious, those who say they were penetrated anally, vaginally, orally, or digitally by a priest or another abuser who was supervised by the archdiocese. The ranges in each case were then totalled, people involved in the talks said, resulting in a range from a minimum of $90 million to a maximum of $120 million.

Under the proposal from the victims' lawyers, the archdiocese would be involved in the process of determining the value of each claim. But under the terms of O'Malley's initial proposal, the church would not participate in determining individual settlements, according to those involved in the talks.

Meanwhile, both sides were in court yesterday morning arguing over access to the psychiatric records of 18 priests, in the event the cases head to trial.

This spring, lawyers for alleged abuse victim Gregory Ford of Newton asked Sweeney to order the disclosure of records involving 80 priests who were accused of sexual misconduct and were evaluated at church-affiliated psychiatric centers.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say they believe the records will show that the archdiocese had a pattern of ignoring the advice of medical professionals and putting dangerous priests back into parish ministry. The plaintiff's lawyers argued that the normal therapist-patient privileges do not apply, because the priests agreed to be evaluated and knew that the results would be turned over to a third party, the archdiocese.

Most of the records were turned over this month, but the 18 priests objected. Their lawyers argued yesterday that the release of their records would be a violation of their right to privacy.

Some of the priests lawyers also argued that, since priests are required to take a vow of obedience to the Church when they are ordained, it cannot be argued that the psychiatric evaluations were voluntary. Sweeney took the arguments under advisement.


By Joseph E. Gallagher Jr.
Boston Globe
August 27, 2003

AS WE REFLECT on the tragic turn of events that took the life of John Geoghan last weekend, we realize that as bad as any situation may seem, it can always get worse. And such is the case in the clergy sex abuse scandal that has rocked the American Catholic Church to its very core, especially in Boston. Even at this late date, when you'd have expected the church to have learned so much, it still falls woefully short of meeting the hopes and expectations of those abused by men who stood in the place of Christ. Understand this: There will be no healing in this church until victims experience the catharsis of genuine mercy and compassion devoid of the narrow vision and attitude that has had such an incendiary effect on past settlement talks. We refer to the following issues:

Settlement amounts: There is no "right" amount that will make victims whole, but there are "wrong" amounts that will leave them feeling revictimized once again. Victims are being bullied by the church to accept an offer without the benefit of full financial disclosure in at least two relevant areas -- first, a reasonable estimate of maximum insurance exposure, said to be in the range of $110 million, and, second, an analysis of their unused assets and properties available for sale here in Boston said to have an assessed value of $160 million, with a market value of perhaps as much as $250 million.

Thus, the church may have insurance and assets available for victims' settlements that could exceed $300 million before it has to reach into its operating funds.

Why then has their offer been so low? At $65 million -- the latest offer -- the average victim would receive less than $80,000 and lawyers' fees. That is a "wrong" number that would leave most victims feeling abused once again. What might the "right" number be? Consider the figure of $163 million, yielding victims some $200,000 after legal fees. It is exactly the per-victim amount granted to victims in Providence in 2002 and it would seem to be well within the limits of insurance coverage and the church's unused assets and properties. This would not be a settlement that victims could retire on. Far from it. But it can be a foundation for rebuilding shattered lives and souls.

It is time to stop the bargaining and begin the healing with a financial "leap of faith." An offer should be made that will not only not infuriate victims but will leave them encouraged at such a tangible sign of the church's desire to make amends, promote healing, and move on.

Full disclosure of records: More than any single element that could be offered, victims want the world to understand what happened to them and to thousands of others. They want their story told.

Historically, the church has bought the silence of victims and withheld full disclosure as a condition of settlement. History will judge Archbishop O'Malley by his display of or lack of courage on this point. We are reminded that while inFall River, Bishop O'Malley refused for over 10 years to reveal the names of 21 priests accused of sexual misconduct to the police and District Attorney Paul Walsh. Will he now have the courage to do the right thing? Will he ask, "What would Jesus do?"

Independent access to therapy: For too long, the church has insisted that in making therapy available to victims it will do so only when the victim has sought such help directly from an office of the Archdiocese. Why should a church that has so cruelly victimized the most vulnerable among us get to insist that survivors of such abuse grovel to that same church for access to therapy?

O'Malley must allow for an independent outreach and advocacy program for those who simply cannot approach the church for help. It could be ably administered by organizations such as Jane Doe, Victims of Violence, and Massachusetts Citizens for Children, who are ready to help, and it is supported by Attorney General Thomas Reilly. For what possible reason, other than arrogance or ignorance, would church officials not see the wisdom and compassion of this need?

Independent review board: The surest sign of "business as usual" would be a refusal on the part of the archdiocese to a truly independent review board to oversee the efforts of the church to protect children from clergy sexual abuse. Victims don't want a board of "fat cats" who, by their very appointment, are indebted to the archdiocese that appointed them. This just won't work and the attorney general has bluntly told O'Malley so. It is a tired, cynical, insider approach designed to appear as if the church is under close scrutiny. Not so, and we all know it.

Thus, by these four needs or their approximate equivalents, shall the efforts of the church and the archbishop be judged as visionary and heroic or myopic and bureaucratically timid. An effort by protagonists on both sides to break the mold, to offer heartfelt reparations, and to seek real avenues of healing could have the truly stunning effect of redemption for our church and its victims.

Yes, things can always get worse, which is why we need a giant of a leader who insists, no matter what the cost, that things must and will get better. Will that leader be Archbishop O'Malley?

Joseph E. Gallagher Jr. is co-founder of the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors, a victims advocacy group.


Bishop Accountability © 2003