Many Wary about Deal: Victims Voice Concerns over Settlement Language

By Robin Washington
Boston Herald [Boston MA]
September 10, 2003

Clergy sexual abuse plaintiffs weighing whether or not to accept the Archdiocese of Boston's proposed $85 million settlement offer responded with caution yesterday, voicing concerns over the language of the final agreement needed to cement the deal.

Among concerns expressed by victims and their advocates was any wording in the document absolving the church of fault - typical in most settlements - as well as language releasing the defendants or others from future claims.

"I'm not comfortable about that because of the information still being held in secrecy," Phil Cosgrove, an alleged victim of the late defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, said of the proposed release agreement.

Cosgrove, who said he had yet to decide if accepting the deal would be a "slap in the face or a reflection of my exasperation," also worried about any confidentiality clauses in the agreement.

"That's the big one," he said. "It's just really important that we know everything so that this doesn't happen again."

Though the final document has yet to be drafted, Carmen Durso, a plaintiffs' lawyer who serves on the steering committee that hammered out the deal, said a confidentiality agreement would not be included.

But he said the tentative deal will probably halt the production of unreleased documents about alleged abusers and their supervisors, such as hundreds of pages of psychiatric records recently turned over to a plaintiffs' lawyer.

"(Superior Court) Judge (Constance) Sweeney entered a stay with regard to all pending matters. I don't think that there will be any more court-ordered production," he said.

Durso said he understands the plaintiffs' dilemma of deciding to join.

"They're giving up their right to sue," he said. "What they're getting in return is a release from the statute of limitations and the (church's) charitable immunity protection and the (burden) of proving negligence. That's huge."

Mary Ryan was the sole plaintiff against the Diocese of Providence to turn down a $400,000 settlement offer earlier this year because of concerns about confidentiality and the church's refusal to release priest records. But the Rhode Island alleged victim, whose suit was just dismissed because it was beyond the statute of limitations, said her decision was worth it.

"I don't regret anything that I've done because there's a healing in it," said Ryan. "I can't tell anyone what to do except listen to yourself and what your heart says."


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