Bishop Accountability

Op-Ed: As You Were Saying. . .
Plaintiffs victimized by terms of church's abuse settlement

By Joseph E. Gallagher Jr.
Boston Herald
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 violated.

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
protect them.

Joseph E. Gallagher Jr. lives in Wellesley and is co-founder of the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors, a victims advocacy group.


Original material copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.