| MANCHESTER NH (11/26/02)
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By Annmarie Timmins firstname.lastname@example.org
MANCHESTER - Sixty-two people who claimed they were abused by priests and employees of the Diocese of Manchester between the 1950s and 1980s settled their lawsuits against the diocese yesterday for just over $5 million.
It's the second settlement the church has announced since the clergy sexual abuse scandal broke in New Hampshire in February. In October, attorney Chuck Douglas settled lawsuits on behalf of 16 victims for $950,000.
Neither church officials nor the victims' attorney, Peter Hutchins, would discuss individual awards in yesterday's settlement. Hutchins told the Associated Press that no one victim will receive more than $500,000 and that the median settlement was $41,250.
Hutchins will receive about one-third of the settlement to cover his fees and nearly $120,000 in expenses he incurred. Hutchins praised the diocese yesterday for its cooperation and sensitivity toward his clients, who wanted to remain anonymous.
"We achieved what I hoped New Hampshire could," Hutchins said. "We wanted to try to avoid damage a trial would do to our clients, their kids and the majority of the people in the Diocese of (Manchester) who are totally innocent of any wrongdoing."
The Rev. Edward Arsenault, who handles sexual abuse complaints for the diocese, declined to discuss the nature of the allegations yesterday or where the alleged abuse had occurred. He said the settlements are about pastoral care, not legal wrangling.
"We are grateful these 62 individuals had the courage to come forward," Arsenault said. "The healing process can now begin."
Yesterday's settlement involved 28 priests, one member of a religious institute and two lay persons employed by the diocese. All but five of the victims are men, and all the alleged abuse involved physical contact, Hutchins said.
All but two of the alleged abusers were named; the victims of one priests and one employee did not want to publicly identify their abuser.
In his settlement, Douglas said he required the diocese to give police authorities the names of all accused priests. Hutchins said he did not request that, and church officials do not report priests to law enforcement unless the victim is still a child.
And Hutchins said future settlements won't get the same media attention yesterday's did because the settlement process has become so easy, he and the church's attorney can now resolve claims individually, within days and with little negotiation.
That concerned Douglas. Publicizing the names of abusive priests helps other victims deal with their own pain, he said.
"Part of the process is letting those who have not come forward know they are not alone," he said.
Plus, the church has been criticized for not better policing its abusive priests in the past. Hutchins dismissed that concern yesterday.
"You have to have a little trust left in the world or it's a pretty miserable place," he said. He said he believed the diocese had changed its practices and now responds to claims quickly and appropriately.
Arsenault refused to say yesterday whether the church had acknowledged the validity of the claims in Hutchins's lawsuits as part of the settlement, telling reporters to read his press release. Arsenault's press release hedged on accepting responsibility, referring to victims as people who had "reported" abuse.
A letter from Bishop John McCormack to the victims reportedly expressed sorrow and an offer to meet individually with victims. But there was no indication in the press release that McCormack had accepted responsibility. Reporters requested a copy of McCormack's letter but were not given one.
Most of the allegations in yesterday's settlement stemmed from the 1970s and 1960s. A dozen lawsuits alleged abuse from either the 1980s or the 1950s.
It was not clear from the information provided yesterday when each priest or employee was accused, but only four priests were still in active ministry when the diocese learned of the allegations, church officials said.
One of those was Father Aime Boisselle, who resigned from Sacred Heart Church in Concord in May after being accused of past abuse.
Hutchins said he did not know whether the church had removed the accused priests immediately upon learning of the abuse. He said his concern was settling the lawsuits without a trial and that he did not go deep enough into the history to discern how the church had handled each individual allegation.
The settlement totals $5,074,000. Arsenault said that money will come from three sources: $2 million from the diocese's insurance carriers, $900,000 from reserves in the diocese's insurance fund, and $2.1 million from savings of the church, which is available for pastoral needs.
Arsenault said none of the money comes from parish, school or the Catholic Charities coffers. He said the money will come from investment returns and unrestricted gifts to the bishop. However, each parish does contribute a portion of its collections for buying diocesan insurance.
Arsenault could not say how the nearly $5 million would have been used had it not been spent to settle abuse claims against priests and employees. "It's like anyone's savings account," he said. "Who knows what you might do with your savings."
He said the money was well-spent if it helps victims to heal. Hutchins agreed and said the Diocese of Manchester has taken the lead in resolving clergy sexual abuse. "You can't really ensure the future is going to be better unless you've tried your best to fix the past."
The church still faces several more lawsuits.
Douglas said yesterday that he already has eight new cases he is preparing to bring against the church. Hutchins said he too is still getting calls. And attorney Mark Abramson is preparing to go to trial on behalf of nearly 60 alleged victims.
Hutchins had initially hoped to combine all victims' complaints against
the diocese into a single class-action lawsuit. In court records, he estimated
the church could settle all its claims for about $30 million. That idea
faltered after Douglas and Abramson decided to pursue their cases individually.
By Stephen Kurkjian email@example.com
The diocese of Manchester, N.H., announced yesterday that it has agreed to pay more than $5 million to settle claims of sexual abuse against 28 priests, two lay employees, and one member of a religious order.
The incidents of abuse covered by the settlement occurred between 1956 and 1985, and involved 62 victims. But because the diocese did not have insurance coverage early in that period, it must pay the bulk of the settlement out of its own assets.
Of the total, $2.1 million will come from the diocese's unrestricted savings account, and $900,000 from other reserves. Lloyd's of London, the insurance carrier, will contribute the remaining $2 million to the settlement, the diocese stated.
Peter E. Hutchins of Manchester, who represented the victims in the settlement, praised the diocese and Lloyd's for acting in good faith in reaching the agreement. ''I'm very pleased that we were able to accomplish a settlement of this magnitude without the need to resort to litigation, with all of the potential harm to victims and other people that could entail.''
Hutchins declined to provide details on payments to individuals. But one participant in the negotiations who asked not to be identified said that one victim who had been abused more than 100 times was paid nearly $500,000.
Individual settlement amounts varied with the severity of the molestation suffered by the victim, with sodomy being the worst offense and fondling outside of the clothes being the least severe.
Only four of the 28 priests were in active ministry in New Hampshire
when the complaints against them were filed. All have since been removed.
The remainder had either died, retired, or left the ministry. Of the 62
victims, Hutchins said, five were women.
The Rev. Edward J. Arsenault, chancellor for the Manchester diocese and its delegate on sexual abuse claims, said yesterday's settlement shows the determination of the diocese and Bishop John McCormack to resolve the claims.
In all, more than 40 priests who served in New Hampshire have been accused
of molesting youths between the early 1950s and the late 1980s, according
to Attorney General Philip T. McLaughlin. McLaughlin's office is close
to completing its criminal investigation into whether the Manchester diocese
may have violated the state's child endangerment statute.
By Ralph Ranalli
In an agreement that ends nearly all the remaining sex abuse lawsuits filed against the Catholic Church in New Hampshire, the Diocese of Manchester will pay $6.5 million to settle 61 civil claims brought by people who allege they were sexually abused by clergy.
The diocese has now agreed to pay a total of $15.5 million to settle 176 abuse claims, largely resolving its legal problems stemming from the nationwide sex abuse scandal.
The agreement was reached as church leaders and alleged victims elsewhere, including Boston, appear unable to resolve hundreds of lawsuits short of trial. Yesterday, in an effort to reach a settlement of 500 lawsuits filed against the Archdiocese of Boston, Bishop Richard G. Lennon appealed for a 30-day extension of a cooling-off period that ended earlier this week.
A lawyer from the Boston law firm representing about 250 alleged victims suing the archdiocese said he would support an extension of the moratorium, given Lennon's personal appeal.
''I am going to be recommending a stand-down based on the fact that Bishop Lennon has come forward himself with not only his personal involvement, but his commitment that the archdiocese intends on resolving these claims,'' said lawyer Jeffrey Newman of the Boston firm Greenberg Traurig.
The chancellor of the Manchester Diocese, the Rev. Edward J. Arsenault, said yesterday that the overarching principle in reaching a settlement ''was wanting to bring people to the Lord.''
''I am hopeful for the future of the church in New Hampshire,'' Arsenault said.
Still, victims' advocates said Bishop John McCormack's refusal to resign for his handling of abusive priests remains a major impediment to true reconciliation.
''I just hope that the pressure from the community will force the bishop to resign now that a substantial amount of the cases are over,'' said Mark Abramson, an attorney for victims.
In a statement yesterday, McCormack said he was ''personally sorry for the hurt [the victims] have experienced,'' and said he has written to each one ''expressing my deep regret.'' A handful of cases remain unresolved.
The Manchester Diocese has also resolved its potential problems under criminal law. Last December, the diocese became the first in the country to admit it may have violated criminal law by failing to protect children from sexually abusive priests. Facing an imminent indictment of the diocese, McCormack signed a legal agreement with the state acknowledging that the New Hampshire attorney general's office had sufficient evidence to win convictions.
In announcing yesterday's civil settlement, both sides said they were glad to have achieved a central goal: avoiding years of bitter litigation that could cause lasting and perhaps irreparable harm to the church and victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Attorneys for victims and the church said the key to success was focusing on settlement - rather than trials - from the beginning. That approach, they said, built trust among the church, attorneys for the plaintiffs, and the victims themselves. It also helped that the Manchester Diocese had cooperative insurance carriers, lawyers for both sides said.
Ovide Lamontagne, an attorney who represented the diocese, said McCormack and other church leaders not only told their lawyers to push for a speedy settlement, but also to act more ''pastorally'' than litigiously. That meant that lawyers could not employ hard-edged legal tactics; court filings had to be moderate in tone so as not to poison settlement talks.
''That is not typical in terms of client requests,'' Lamontagne said.
Arsenault said that while the church was aware of its legal rights and prepared to defend them if need be, litigating was a last resort. ''It was not lost on us that our legal defenses, while legitimate, were distasteful to many people,'' he said. ''What it reads as is that ... victims are coming forward and that the church doesn't want to help them. While that's not necessarily the case, that's what it looks like.''
Peter Hutchins, a Manchester attorney for other plaintiffs whose firm has already settled 79 cases with the diocese for $6.8 million, said settlement talks were also helped when victims and church leaders were able to agree on a single framework for paying claims that focused exclusively on the type and severity of abuse committed by the priest, rather than trying to put a dollar figure on the psychological damage suffered by each plaintiff.
''That way, regardless of the money, each of our clients know that they were treated fairly with regard to every other client,'' Hutchins said.
The settlement in New Hampshire is in sharp contrast to the situation involving the Archdiocese of Boston, where a 90-day cooling-off period expired this week without progress toward a settlement.
Lawyers for plaintiffs have accused the church of taking a much harder line since the initial $10 million settlement, eight months ago, of 86 cases involving defrocked priest John Geoghan.
Material from the Associated Press was also used in this article.
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