|Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington Settles Abuse Lawsuits for $17.6 Million
By Sam Hemingway
The Burlington Free Press
May 13, 2010
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington today paid $17.6 million to settle 26 lawsuits alleging incidents of long-ago child molestation by priests.
The settlement, expected to be announced in separate news conferences in the next hour by Bishop Salvatore Matano and lawyers for the victims, resolves all cases pending against the diocese, including two on appeal before the Vermont Supreme Court.
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Additionally, two other cases that resulted in million-dollar jury verdicts and are on appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, are to be settled separately, bringing the total figure to more than $20 million.
Jerome O’Neill, the lead attorney for the victims, said his clients all agreed to the massive settlement rather than pursue their cases individually at trial because they wanted to move on with their lives.
“It provides closure to a chapter in their lives,” he said early Thursday afternoon. “They do not think for a moment that received this settlement is going to make the pain of what happened to them go away.”
Matano would not comment until he holds his news conference, diocese spokeswoman Pat Gore said.
O’Neill said his clients, 27 men and one woman, took a courageous stand in pursuing their cases.
“They have mixed feelings about the settlement,” he said. “A few are frustrated that they will not get the chance to present their case to a jury.”
The settlement was hammered out over the past three months in negotiations between O’Neill’s firm and lawyers for the diocese, O’Neill said. Of the pending 28 lawsuits covered by the settlement, 23 involved allegations of molestation of altar boys in the 1970s by the Rev. Edward Paquette.
The diocese, by taking today's action, abruptly abandoned its policy of trying the cases in court one by one, a strategy that has led to damages verdicts of $8.7 million and $3.6 million in 2008 and another $2.2 million award against the church in 2009.
There have also been two mistrials and numerous out-of-court settlements, including one for $965,000.
Last month, Judge Helen Toor said she wanted to accelerate the process of resolving the cases by conducting a joint trial in September on all of the Paquette claims.
O’Neill and Thomas McCormick, an attorney for the diocese, both said they had misgivings about that plan. O’Neill said Thursday that Toor’s proposal was not a factor in reaching the settlement.
“These discussions were well along the way before her order was issued,” O’Neill said.
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