Appointment Stirs Hope on Settlements

By Tom Mashberg
Boston Herald
July 2, 2003

Eleven years ago, Bishop Sean P. O'Malley was asked to wade into a legal quagmire in Fall River much like the one that currently enmeshes the Archdiocese of Boston.

There was an insurance company balking at putting money on the table. There were embittered and suspicious plaintiffs, and a diocese reeling from the depradations of a rogue priest, James R. Porter.

"This guy came in and immediately calmed the waters," said Paul A. Finn, the mediator for the 70 or so Porter settlements, which ran to nearly $15 million.

"He's a special person," Finn said. "He sat in on mediations. He calmed and met with victims without his lawyers to resolve claims. He took a very hands-on approach.

"Without him, I doubt we could have gotten it resolved," said Finn, head of Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation of Brockton, and now a mediator in the Archdiocese of Boston settlement negotiations.

The Boston scandal, like the Boston seat, is far larger and more intricate than what occurred in Fall River in the fall of 1992.

More than 500 plaintiffs have come forward in the past two years alleging abuse by dozens of Boston-area priests. Two dozen lawyers are involved on all sides, as well as two insurance carriers.

But Finn and many plaintiffs' attorneys are hopeful O'Malley has the tenacity and drive to push the settlement problem forward. His simplicity, his embrace of poverty and his willingness to listen to victims for hours at a time, they say, also make agreement more likely.

"It's like night and day," said attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who worked with O'Malley during the Porter cases and has expressed enormous frustration with the leadership of the Boston archdiocese. "He's not someone who has any pomp and circumstance about him, and that translates well."

Carmen L. Durso, another plaintiffs' lawyer, also put hope in the shy, sandal-wearing prelate who appeared to blanch at the prospect of living in the chancery mansion.

"We've lost so much time," Durso said. "The summer will be gone before he is back here and in a position to make things happen. But this man looks like he means action."


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