Bishop Approves of Settlements

By Bill Zajac
The Republican [Springfield MA]
October 3, 2003

SPRINGFIELD - The Springfield diocese said yesterday that even if it wins several legal efforts to have clergy sexual abuse suits dismissed, it is willing to consider settlements with the plaintiffs in those cases.

"The position of the diocese has not changed. Bishop (Thomas L.) Dupre has always wanted each case individually valued, treated in hopes to see all are fairly treated," said Mark E. Dupont, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

But a member of the law firm representing 21 plaintiffs in clergy sexual abuse suits said the diocese's position is new to her.

"It does signal a change if it is taken for what it is and they follow through. It is the right and honorable thing to do," said Danielle J. Barshak of the Greenfield law firm Stobierski and Stobierski, which represents 21 plaintiffs in clergy sexual abuse cases against the diocese.

Dupre was quoted yesterday in the Hampshire Gazette as saying, "I think it's in everybody's interest to settle these things and get them behind us."

On Sept. 16, a few days after the diocese filed a motion to have five clergy sexual abuse suits dismissed on grounds of charitable immunity, the diocese announced for the first time that it was willing to accept a mediator to try to settle the suits it is facing. There are at least 25 suits filed against the diocese.

Dupre was not available for direct comment yesterday.

Although Barshak welcomed Dupre's conciliatory remarks, she said the diocese's hardball legal strategy has left its mark on plaintiffs.

"On one hand they are saying that anyone with a reasonable claim will be settled with. At the same time, they have put these people through hell," Barshak said.

One plaintiff has attempted suicide and another has had suicidal thoughts as a result of the diocese's legal strategies, Barshak said.

"To keep these motions alive is to inflict more pain and suffering on these people," said Barshak, who suggested the diocese put the motions on hold as a good faith effort at negotiating settlements.

The diocese also launched a legal effort earlier this year to have all clergy sexual abuse cases dismissed on First Amendment grounds.

Dupre said the diocese has had to pursue these motions to maintain legal leverage.

The diocese statement yesterday said that the diocese as well as the plaintiffs' legal counsel must preserve legal rights based on timetables of the courts.

In the Gazette interview, the bishop said the diocese will release by year's end the number of accusations of clergy sexual abuse that has been made against the diocese in the past 50 years.

This marks a change in diocesan position. In June, Dupont said the diocese would not release similar information that was included in a diocesan report for a national study of the abuse crisis.


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