Property Sales Bolster to Abuse Settlement

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
November 30, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - With the sale of a piece of property last week for $750,000, the clergy sexual abuse settlement between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield and the majority of claimants is nearly complete.

The settlement, reached in August with 46 people represented by Greenfield lawyer John J. Stobierski, included $7 million in cash and net proceeds from the sale of two properties. The diocese put the properties in the control of the claimants through Stobierski.

One property, a 4.8-acre vacant lot on Tinkham Road in Wilbraham, was sold last week to developer Anthony Carnevale, according to Hampden Registry of Deeds records.

"We are quite pleased with the value we received," Stobierski said. The sale price was higher than recent appraisers' estimates of between $400,000 and $600,000.

The other property, an 11-acre landlocked vacant lot off South Porter Road in Springfield, is for sale.

"Are we going to get a lot of money for it? No. Are we going to get something for it? Yes," said Stobierski, adding that there has been interest in the lot.

Some claimants have informally discussed the possibility of creating a park on the site if the land doesn't sell.

Meanwhile, 20 or so alleged clergy sexual abuse victims represented by other lawyers are waiting to hear whether the Springfield Diocese will handle their claims in the same manner.

Claimants' lawyers raised concerns when shortly after Stobierski's clients settled with the diocese, a Hampden Superior Court judge ruled churches are protected by charitable immunity limiting judgments to $20,000 in clergy sexual abuse cases.

With the recent sale of the Tinkham Road property, the average settlement of each of Stobierski's 46 clients rose to $168,478. That is slightly more than the average settlement in the Archdiocese of Boston, which settled about 500 claims for $85 million in 2003.

"It's higher than Boston, and that is significant," Stobierski said. Stobierski said his fee will be the standard one-third, which comes to almost $2.6 million.

In the Springfield Diocese, individual settlements ranged between $80,000 and $300,000. The amounts were decided by a panel of arbiters who measured the amount of abuse, the kinds of abuse and the abuse's impact on the victims' lives.

The cash part of the settlement was paid in September. Stobierski refused to comment on when his clients will receive their portion of the property sale. Several of Stobierski's clients refused comment on the sale of the property.

Eighteen priests were accused of sexual abuse in the suits the diocese settled with Stobierski's clients.


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