Arbitration Begins in Clergy Sex Abuse Cases

Associated Press State & Local Wire
October 21, 2003

More than two decades after she was first abused at age 6, the woman finally got to tell her story: not to a judge or jury, but to an arbitrator who listened as she described how she was molested hundreds of times over five years by a priest who befriended her mother.

The first arbitration sessions were held Tuesday to determine how to compensate more than 450 victims of clergy sexual abuse who have signed on to an $85 million settlement with the Archdiocese of Boston. The settlement is the largest-known payout by a U.S. diocese to settle molestation charges.

Christine, who asked that her last name not be used, said it was both "intimidating" and "liberating" for her to go through the details of her ordeal.

"I told my story in my own words," said Christine, 28, who said she was molested by the late Rev. Joseph McInnis, a priest at St. Monica's Parish in Boston. "It felt good that somebody had to listen to what had happened to me."

The arbitrator will put a dollar figure on the pain and suffering caused by her abuse.

Over the next two months, similar arbitration sessions will be held for each of the victims. So far, more than 80 percent of the 552 plaintiffs have signed settlement agreements. Lawyers who represent the victims said they expect between 90 percent and 98 percent to sign on by Thursday's deadline.

The agreement between the victims and the Boston Archdiocese calls for non-confrontational arbitration sessions, where each victim - accompanied by his or her attorney - will be asked to describe the circumstances of their abuse.

"There is no cross-examination," said attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents Christine and 119 other people who say they were molested by priests.

"The idea behind this was to prevent the arbitration from being a grueling experience for the victim ... and to allow the victim to speak openly and freely is his or her own words," Garabedian said.

"It is the victim's day in court. It is the victim's day to state what they've been wanting to state for months, if not years, to an individual who will make a determination on his or her case."

Victims are allowed to bring a family member, friend or someone else to support them, and may also bring a psychologist to testify about the effects of the abuse. They may also request that a representative of the archdiocese attend to hear their stories of abuse directly.

"People will be allowed to go in there and let it all hang out or sit silently and cry, depending which they feel most capable of doing," said attorney Carmen Durso, whose represents 39 victims.

Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose firm represents nearly half of the 552 victims, said the arbitrators do not have any set formula for determining how much each victim deserves.

They will consider the type, severity and duration of the abuse in deciding the level of compensation within a range of $80,000 to $300,000. But the emphasis will be on how the abuse has affected victims and what kind of suffering it has caused, MacLeish said.

"Rather than making it into a mechanical thing, where the rape cases are on one tier and the fondling cases are on another tier, we are leaving it up to the arbitrators to hear the stories and then make the award," MacLeish said.

Lead arbitrator Paul Finn has appointed 15 other arbitrators to preside over the hearings. Once the sessions are completed in mid-December, all the arbitrators will meet to discuss their recommendations for individual awards. Durso said the amounts could then be adjusted upward or downward, depending on whether there are large disparities in similar cases heard by different arbitrators.

"There's no simple formulaic way of looking at this. What you have to look at are the kinds of acts, the number of times they occurred, the relationship of the parties, how it affected the person's life and how badly damaged they are as a result of what happened to them," Durso said.

A 41-year-old man who had his arbitration session Tuesday said he cried as he described how the late Rev. John Geoghan molested him when he was 12 and 13 years old and how the abuse affected his life.

"It's caused my life to self-destruct over the years," said the man, who asked that his name not be used. "I sedated myself with alcohol and drugs, and it led to my demise eventually. I lost good jobs and lost everything I cared about - my family, children."

Geoghan, whose case triggered the Boston scandal, was murdered two months ago in prison, where he was serving a 9- to 10-year sentence for groping a 10-year-old boy. He had been accused in civil lawsuits of molesting nearly 150 boys over three decades.

The man said he believes arbitration is a fair way to decide the individual awards for the victims.

"I didn't know what to expect, or whether I would be browbeaten ... it wasn't as bad as I had pictured in my mind," he said. "As hard as it was to do, it went as well as possible."


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