Springfield Diocese Seeks Delay of Lawsuits [Springfield MA]
September 20, 2003

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield has filed a motion to delay at least five clergy sexual abuse suits, claiming the insurance company providing coverage in alleged sex abuse cases is being liquidated.

The order of liquidation for The Home Insurance Co. provides for a six-month stay on pending litigation, but shouldn't affect any possible settlement agreements, The Republican of Springfield quoted a diocesan lawyer on Saturday.

The diocese's motion filed in Hampden Superior Court was taken under advisement.

The liquidation triggered the Massachusetts Insurers Insolvency Fund, an industry-assessed guarantee fund, to assume some of Home Insurance's legal responsibilities.

"In connection with any mediation, the guarantee fund would be a party at the negotiating table," attorney lawyer Edward J. McDonough Jr. told the newspaper. He said the stay would allow for a time-out in order to take an inventory of what's happening.

The situation with the Diocese's insurer shows the church's claim that insurance companies are dictating legal strategies in the sex abuse suits is false, said John J. Stobierski, a Greenfield lawyer representing close to 20 people who have filed sexual abuse suits against the Springfield diocese.

"They are playing legal hardball and blaming it on the insurance companies," Stobierski said.

The motion involving the insurer is separate from a pending ruling on the diocese's attempt to have all sexual abuse suits dismissed by invoking First Amendment rights.

A suit filed last year by North Adams resident Shawn M. Dobbert is being used by the diocese to test whether the constitutional provision of separation of church and state can be used to dismiss the cases. A ruling has been pending since April. McDonough told the Republican the Dobbert case was not included in the stay motion because a decision is pending.

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