|Date Set for Clergy Abuse Suit
By Buffy Spencer
November 13, 2007
SPRINGFIELD - It will be another year before any trial in a 2-year-old civil case in which more than 40 people say they were abused by Catholic clergy.
Unless mediation succeeds between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, insurers of the diocese and the claimants, the trial will go forward on Nov. 3, 2008.
After a trial the court would determine how much of the $7.7 million in previous claims settled by the diocese in 2004 must be reimbursed to it by insurers and what insurers must pay toward the new claims.
Peter J. Herrick, who grew up in Greenfield and now lives in Maine, is one of the people whose claim against the diocese is pending.
"It's been really, really tough, for me and my family," he said yesterday. "I carried this torment for 39 years, and to get this close and see the delaying tactics on both sides, the diocese and the insurers, just prolongs any movement for me getting on with my life."
Edward J. McDonough, a lawyer for the diocese, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini issued a scheduling order last week setting deadlines and court events, including the trial date.
At issue for insurers fighting payment to the diocese is when diocese officials knew of the abuse and what they did about it. According to court documents, the insurers allege that they are not financially responsible for clergy abuse claims because the diocese was negligent in handling the complaints.
The diocese is also seeking attorney's fees and coverage for the pending claims.
The more than 40 people whose claims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy were not included in the 2004 settlement had their cases deferred until the civil suit the diocese filed against insurers is resolved.
Claimants' lawyer John J. Stobierski, of Greenfield, said Agostini, who will be sitting in Hampden Superior Court in November 2008, has blocked off the month for the trial.
"He (Agostini) has been sensitive to the concerns of survivors," Stobierski said. He believes the trial date will not be further delayed unless there is a compelling reason.
While the complicated legal process continues, individual claimants are the ones who are hurt, Stobierski said.
Peter Herrick said claimants have "jumped through every hoop. We've been more than gracious at letting the system runs its course, but enough is enough."
Herrick, whose claim involves abuse when he was 11 years old, said he wonders if the diocese and insurers are hoping that delays will convince claimants to give up.
"I never want this to happen to another child again," he said. "If that is going to be my cause, then so be it. I will protect any child I can by my actions. I want my day in court."
Herrick said he has made the 6½ hour drive to Western Massachusetts for status conferences and other court events. "I just want my children to say, 'Dad, we're proud of you. You fought the fight,'" Herrick said.
Lawyers for the diocese, the claimants and insurers have agreed to enter nonbinding mediation talks to see if the lawsuit can be resolved without a trial. A status conference in the case is set for April 15, 2008, and Stobierski said he would expect parties would report on mediation attempts.
Stobierski, who had brought a motion asking Agostini to compel mediation by all the parties, said he and his clients are waiting for the insurers to put together a list of mediators they find acceptable. The first discussion will be to determine the mediator.
Stobierski said a new twist that could help survivors is information discovered recently that there were two insurers with whom the diocese had policies in 1974 and 1975 that had not been listed in the suit. The diocese has asked to have those companies joined as parties.
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