Boston Church Agrees to Settle Cases for $85 Million
By Greg Frost
Reuters [Boston MA]
September 9, 2003
The Archdiocese of Boston, the epicenter of a pedophile priest scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church, agreed on Tuesday to pay up to $85 million to settle lawsuits filed by hundreds of people who say they were sexually abused by clergy.
The proposed deal, reached after secret weekend talks involving Archbishop Sean O'Malley, would mark the largest single payout by a U.S. Catholic diocese to settle civil litigation, church experts said.
Lawyers for more than 540 plaintiffs said they had reached a memorandum of understanding with the church calling for each victim to receive between $80,000 and $300,000, depending on the degree of abuse suffered. The church also agreed to offer victims continued mental and spiritual counseling.
But lawyers cautioned that the proposed agreement was not yet a done deal. More than 80 percent of victims must agree to the proposed settlement's terms before it can be finalized.
Gary Bergeron, one of the hundreds of plaintiffs, called the proposed deal the end of a "painful journey." He said no amount of money would take away his suffering, but that the agreement nonetheless represented a huge symbolic victory.
"From this day forward, I am not an alleged victim of clergy abuse. I am recognized, I am a survivor," he told reporters in Boston after lawyers announced the proposed settlement.
Mitchell Garabedian, one of the lawyers who hammered out the deal, said he expects some plaintiffs to balk at the terms. But another lawyer, William Gordon, said "an overwhelming majority" would likely sign off on the deal.
In a statement, the archdiocese also said it was confident most victims would accept the offer, which was $30 million above its initial offer of $55 million last month.
AGREEMENT CAPS SCANDAL
The agreement caps a crisis over pedophile priests that erupted more than 1-1/2 years ago in the Archdiocese of Boston. Similar scandals later came to light in dioceses around the world, prompting deep discontent and disgust among rank-and-file Catholics.
The scandal in Boston began when it became known that former leaders of the archdiocese, including Cardinal Bernard Law, left known pedophiles in active ministry or shuttled them from church to church without notifying parishioners.
Law resigned in December after dozens of his own priests publicly called on him to step down, but the effects of the scandal still linger.
Law's successor, O'Malley, vowed to settle the hundreds of lawsuits facing the church when he took the reins of the troubled archdiocese in July.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, editor in chief of the national Catholic weekly "America," said it remained to be seen how the archdiocese would pay for the proposed settlement, which he said was the largest single payout by a U.S. diocese to settle civil litigation.
"Now we're waiting for the other shoe to drop," Reese told Reuters. "Where is all this money going to come from and what does it mean in terms of the services provided by the archdiocese? How many programs are going to have to close? This is not going to be a painless solution."
Reese noted the Roman Catholic Diocese of Louisville, Kentucky, agreed earlier this year to settle sexual abuse cases for more than $25 million -- but had been cutting back on services and slashing jobs since.
(Additional reporting by Mark Wilkinson and Tim McLaughlin)
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