Diocese Considers Settling All Claims

By Bill Zajac
The Republican [Springfield MA]
October 15, 2003

SPRINGFIELD - Clergy sexual abuse settlement negotiations in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield are likely to involve more accusers than just those who have filed suit against the diocese.

The Springfield diocese appears open to the desire of several local lawyers to follow the Archdiocese of Boston's script and settle with accusers who have filed written claims of clergy sexual abuse with the diocese without filing suit.

"They should all be mediated and get it over with," said Springfield lawyer Ryan Alekmen, who represents five men who have filed suits against the diocese saying they were abused by priests when they were children.

It would not be the first time the Springfield diocese included nonlitigants in possible settlements, according to a statement it released yesterday.

"The Diocese did so in the early- and mid-1990's and would be open to reviewing similar complaints on a case-by-case basis," the statement read.

"In fact, the majority of the claims against the diocese involving Fr. (Richard R.) Lavigne settled back in the 1990's were based on claims not involving civil suits," the statement said.

In 1994, the diocese reached a $1.4 million settlement with 17 accusers of Lavigne, the Chicopee priest who had been convicted of child molestation a few years earlier.

"Therefore, that aspect of the Boston arrangement is no different from what we did in the 1990's and how we would like to approach present claims," the statement read.

It means the Springfield diocese would be negotiating with more than the 25 or so people who have filed suit against it stating they were sexually abused by priests as children.

The Archdiocese of Boston recently announced a settlement for $85 million with 550 clergy sexual abuse victims. More than 100 of those victims never filed suit, although they notified the archdiocese of their accusations through written claims, according to one of the lawyers involved in the settlement.

"All victims were at various stages in this process when the settlement was announced. Many of the victims had not reached the stage of filing a suit," said Jeffrey A. Newman of Boston law firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP.

Carmen Durso, another Boston lawyer involved in the settlement, said about five of his 39 clients never filed suit but will be part of the settlement.

It is not known how many more people this would add to possible claims of settlements in the Springfield diocese.

Springfield lawyer Daniel M. Kelly said he has filed a claim with the Springfield diocese on behalf of a client who said he was abused by a priest.

"I have a substantial claim and I am interested in settling the matter amicably - without the media circus," said Kelly, who refused to give the name of his client.

Kelly is ready to file suit if necessary, he said.

Durso said the incidence of abuse is no higher in Boston than elsewhere, but that the intense media coverage of the crisis led many Boston victims to come forward.

"For most of them, it became more painful to keep quiet than go deal with it," Durso said.

John J. Stobierski, the Greenfield lawyer who represents 21 people who have filed clergy sexual abuse suits against the diocese, said he represents another 17 people who say they were abused by priests and who have not filed suits.

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