Op-Ed: As You Were Saying. . .
Plaintiffs victimized by terms of church's abuse settlement
By Joseph E. Gallagher Jr.
January 4, 2004
The question, asked facetiously, is "What do you call a thousand
lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean?" The answer,
"A good start," and as victims of clergy sex abuse and their
advocates review the grim elements of the archdiocesan settlement agreement,
we can see why.
This is a profoundly flawed agreement, so flawed it serves no one's interest
adequately. On the one hand, the church is hurt because it has lost yet
another opportunity for genuine redemption. It needed to help
craft a settlement of compassion, and instead it forged a hard bargain,
battering victims into a no-win situation. On the other hand, victims
are disappointed once again because the agreement manifests a total
sense of disconnect between what victims wanted and what the church was
willing to give. To the church, it was all about money, and offering as
little as possible. To victims, it was about so much more than money.
Sadly, some victims have said plaintiffs feel almost like prostitutes
now that they've been compensated financially for having been sexually
Many victims and advocates feel that a healing settlement offer would
have addressed the following issues:
- Full disclosure: We know who the victims are. But who are the sexually
abusive priests and where are they? And how can Archbishop Sean O'Malley
be certain they will abuse no more? O'Malley has a history of refusing
to cooperate with authorities on this issue. Just ask Bristol County
District Attorney Paul Walsh. O'Malley refused to release the names
of 22 abusive priests in the Fall River Diocese for more than 10 years.
- Access to therapy: The church settlement states that the victims shall
be eligible to participate in the continued therapy and healing program
offered by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. The key word here
is eligible, not guaranteed. What is astonishingly unacceptable is any
such program being administered by the same church that was a significant
contributor to the abuse. Attorney General Thomas Reilly has called
for the development of an outreach and therapy program run by people
not affiliated with the church in any way, but funded by the archdiocese.
Control of such a program would be completely independent and in the
hands of professionals, not the church. Access to therapy
should be available to any victim for as long as qualified therapists
feel the need exists.
- Admission of guilt and apology to each victim: Paragraph 5 of the
agreement states, "The agreement does not constitute an admission
of liability but rather is a good faith resolution of disputed claims."
This is gutless language for what victims endured at the hands of their
salacious predators and their accessory before, during and after the
fact, the bishops.
The agreement should have been jettisoned on the basis of this one sentence
alone. Plaintiffs' attorneys should hang their heads in shame for failing
to deliver the most fundamental element of an agreement
designed to begin the healing process - an admission of guilt. An apology
without such an admission is simply empty rhetoric.
We are left to wonder if the reason for such a stunning capitulation
by plaintiffs' attorneys is the lack of financial compensation to them
on all nonmonetary matters. It is especially devastating because the
attorneys' fall from grace demonstrates just how ferocious an opponent
the church can be, some say 10 times tougher than anyone they've ever
faced. It wears adversaries to the bone, and that apparently is what
happened during these negotiations. It is sad also because it obviates
much of the good work done in recent years by plaintiffs' attorneys to
bring this festering wound into the light of day. The church endures and
grinds opponents down.
We sadly are reminded that there are multiple parties who wittingly or
unwittingly contributed to this clergy sex abuse crisis that will scandalize
the church worldwide for decades. Predatory priests, priests who knew
or should have known yet remained silent, bishops, the Vatican, church
insurance companies, law enforcement authorities, elected officials and,
yes, finally, plaintiffs' attorneys all converged to form a perfect storm
of appalling abuse and complicity that Reilly called the worst tragedy
to befall the children of Massachusetts, ever.
This settlement is the capstone of some 30 years of victims' lawyers
urging their clients to enter into confidentiality agreements as a condition
of settlement, which enabled the abuse to continue virtually
undetected for so long. We should not be surprised that the only heroic
figures in this drama are the victims who withstood an unspeakable and
unrelenting assault from most of those we expected would embrace and
Joseph E. Gallagher Jr. lives in Wellesley and is co-founder of the Coalition
of Catholics and Survivors, a victims advocacy group.