Boston Archbishop Put Faith in Lawyer
Hannigan's Role Considered Key to Major Change

By Jonathan Finer and Alan Cooperman
Washington Post [Boston MA]
September 12, 2003

BOSTON, Sept. 11 -- In fewer than six weeks, the changes brought by the new Catholic archbishop of Boston have been less evolutionary than revolutionary.

Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley has eschewed lavish vestments, favoring a humble friar's robe and sandals. He spoke Spanish, Portuguese and Creole at his installation, to reflect the shifting demographics of his new community. He has shunned the opulent mansion that housed his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who was perceived by many Catholics here as aloof and unresponsive to the emerging sexual abuse scandal. And he met with abuse victims and made sure the church paid for their counseling.

But the most dramatic change came Tuesday, when, after an 18-month stalemate, O'Malley delivered a record-setting $85 million agreement between the church and 552 abuse victims. Those involved in the talks cited two key shifts in the church's approach to negotiations under O'Malley's leadership: He attended a session Sunday night in which the outlines of the deal were hammered out. And days after his arrival in Boston, the new archbishop brought in key players from an abuse case he had helped settle a decade ago, including mediator Paul Finn and attorney Thomas Hannigan.

Victims' attorneys said the new negotiating team restored trust and decorum to a process that had become embittered, and helped solve several major sticking points in the days leading up to this week's agreement.

"In the end, it was about personal relationships. The changing of the guard, and especially Tom Hannigan's presence, meant everything," said Roderick MacLeish Jr., who has known Hannigan, Finn and O'Malley since 1992, when they settled more than 100 lawsuits arising from abuse in the diocese in Fall River, Mass. Last year, MacLeish, Hannigan and Finn settled a case brought against Jesuit priests at Boston College High School.

Indeed, beyond O'Malley's personal involvement, the new archbishop's most significant change in dealing with the hundreds of victims may have been bringing in Hannigan.

MacLeish and his colleagues were unanimous in their praise for the lawyer, a 51-year-old Catholic who studied chemical engineering at the University of Notre Dame and later graduated from Boston College Law School. Described by friends and colleagues as soft-spoken and fair, he replaced lawyers known for their hardball tactics with victims. Hannigan did not return calls seeking comment and has kept a low public profile in the settlement negotiations.

"Tom is somebody who, while a consummate professional, is also very embarrassed by all of the attention directed at him," said John Montgomery, who said he has known the lawyer for two decades. The two are partners at the Boston firm Ropes & Gray. "He's never one who would seek self-aggrandizement, particularly at the expense of a client or a colleague. It makes him a very effective negotiator."

Hannigan's college roommate and longtime friend John Hession, also a lawyer in Boston, described him as "straightforward, loyal and honest," and said he takes after his father, an FBI agent. "There is a moral fiber to him that is uncommon," Hession said.

He said that Hannigan, who lives in Needham, a suburb southwest of Boston, is a regular churchgoer, comes from a "strong family background and is intensely devoted to his wife and their son and two daughters."

Victims' attorneys said negotiations were expedited because they trusted Hannigan and he trusted them. The church had originally asked to pay out a settlement in regular installments ending in 2005, which MacLeish said was a potential "deal-breaker." Hannigan also made a request. "He told us that the amount of money we were asking for was unacceptable to the church," said MacLeish, who along with his colleagues had once sought as much as $120 million. "I knew if he said it, that it was true, and he knew our demands were not just a negotiating tactic."

The final agreement calls for the settlement to be paid out in a lump sum by Christmas.

With the details worked out, negotiations centered on the church's finances. Under Law, who resigned because of the scandal, the archdiocese last year had agreed to a $20 million to $30 million settlement with victims in another abuse case. But the church later said it could not afford that much, and eventually paid $10 million.

This time, Hannigan made clear that the committee that oversees the church's finances had already voted to approve the agreement, victims' attorneys said. "I took Tom aside in the hallway and said, 'Have you personally looked at how they're going to pay this?' And he said, 'You have my assurance,' " MacLeish said. "I have known him for 10 years, and everything he's said has come true. If anyone had said that other than Tom, I don't know."

The church hopes to raise about $15 million of the settlement payout by selling property now on the market, a spokesman said. O'Malley told the Associated Press that the archdiocese will also take out loans and try to collect money from its insurance companies, but that it will not use collection money from parishioners. He also suggested that the church may sell or mortgage more of its properties.

Attorneys working on the case estimated that their total fees could approach $30 million.

The quick and relatively amicable negotiations that unfolded over the past few weeks in Boston could provide a model for abuse cases facing dioceses nationwide. Settlements were reached recently in Kentucky and Rhode Island, but many cases are still pending in California, Wisconsin and elsewhere.

"There are differences between the two situations, but hopefully some of the goodwill generated there will translate into progress out here," said Raymond Boucher, lead counsel for more than 400 plaintiffs in Southern California.

Jeffrey R. Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., who has represented hundreds of alleged victims in other dioceses, noted the speed with which O'Malley produced a settlement. "It proves these guys can do it, if they want to," he said. "If O'Malley could do it in five weeks, shame on every other bishop and every other diocese that doesn't do it in five weeks."

Cooperman reported from Washington.

Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.