Payment near for Victims of Church Sex Abuse Scandal
By John Ellement
December 19, 2003
Today, in a college lecture hall in Easton, a group of men and women will put a dollar value on the pain of hundreds of men and women sexually abused by Catholic priests.
Tomorrow, the 541 people who have accepted an $85 million settlement with the Archdiocese of Boston will find out how much an arbitrator believes they should receive as compensation for the abuse they suffered, some of them decades ago, when they were molested by their parish priest.
"No matter what [arbitrators] do, the money isn't going to be enough. The money is not what I'm looking at anyway; that's just more symbolism," said Alexa T. MacPherson, a 28-year-old Dorchester woman who was molested by a priest for several years beginning when she was a toddler. "I just don't want it to happen again."
Under the agreement, individual awards to victims will range from $80,000 to $300,000, depending on the severity and duration of the abuse. The archdiocese will hand over checks on Monday to victims' attorneys, who will deduct legal fees and costs before making payments to victims. Lawyers will deduct roughly 33 percent for legal fees, plus additional money for costs associated with the lengthy legal battle with the archdiocese.
Since the archdiocese and a battery of lawyers representing victims agreed to the record-setting settlement on Sept. 9, each plaintiff has appeared before an arbitrator, personally recounting the abuse endured, the emotional pain the assaults caused, and the consequences they have wrestled with for years.
In all, 19 arbitrators participated in the effort overseen by Brockton-based Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation Inc. Company president Paul A. Finn said the arbitrators often found themselves emotionally drained at the end of the sessions, which could last up to two hours.
"For every single one of them, this is the most difficult and emotional thing they have ever done as professionals, and this team included retired judges," said Finn. "Every one of them has said that."
The individual hearings were held in the offices of the lawyers who had sued the archdiocese, including the downtown Boston office of attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents 120 victims. "Some brought family members, some brought therapists, some brought photographs," said Garabedian, who attended all 120 hearings. "It was extremely emotional."
Boston attorney Carmen L. Durso and his staff provided arbitrators with written summaries of the cases so their clients could spend their time detailing the personal impact of the abuse, instead of providing background information.
"We still went though boxes and boxes of tissues," said Durso. "Most of my clients are men, and, you know how guys are about crying, that it's an embarrassment in and of itself. As easy as we tried to make it for them, I'm sure every one of them will tell you, it's the most difficult thing they had to do."
The attorneys said their clients need the money to pay bills, not to buy second homes or expensive cars. "No one is going to make a lot of money on this," said Durso. "The symbolism is big, far bigger than the money that is being awarded here. It's a recognition that the person paying, the entity paying, was responsible and is taking responsibility for what happened to them. That's the symbolism."
Boston attorney Roderick MacLeish, Jr., whose firm, Greenberg Traurig, represents 225 people abused by priests, said he has warned his clients not to link the amount of the award to the suffering they endured. "We've tried to prepare them not to do that."
The settlement, which was reached after Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley personally became involved in the talks, is putting financial pressure on the church. The archdiocese plans to sell 28 acres of land in Brighton, including the longtime residence of Boston's cardinals, and obtain bank loans to finance the $85 million agreement.
The Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, said this marks an end to one "chapter in the whole sad saga of this crisis. . . . But the people of the archdiocese are very much aware that there is a lot of work to be done in terms of reconciliation with the victims, their survivors, and their families."
But the settlement does not mean the end of lawsuits alleging molestation by priests in the archdiocese.
A dozen plaintiffs have opted out of the settlement and will pursue their claims in court, which some attorneys have estimated could cost the archdiocese another $10 million to $20 million in jury awards.
In addition, the attorneys said they are getting new clients regularly and more information is being handed over by the archdiocese. "This is a long way from over," said MacLeish.
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