Church May Face Second Wave of Clergy Sex Abuse Lawsuits

By Laura Crimaldi
Boston Herald [Boston MA]
May 23, 2004

Five months after the Boston Archdiocese settled a lawsuit with the nation's largest known financial payout over clergy abuse, the groundwork is being laid for more legal action against the church by dozens of new alleged victims in the sex-abuse scandal.

Lawyers representing an estimated 40 to 50 new clients who are alleged victims of sex abuse by priests plan to meet June 2 to discuss how to proceed with legal action against the archdiocese, according to Boston attorney Carmen Durso.

Earlier this month, Durso sent an e-mail to lawyers who represented 540 victims of clergy sex abuse in an $85 million settlement paid out in December.

Victims' attorneys are trying to determine the magnitude of a second wave of lawsuits against the archdiocese and how they should be handled, Durso said.

"These are people who did not just come out of the woodwork. They've always been there," said Durso, who represented 40 alleged victims during the first round of negotiations.

Many of his clients say they were abused by the Rev. Bernard J. Lane during his tenure as head of the Alpha/Omega youth treatment center in Littleton in the 1970s.

Nance Lyons, a Boston attorney who also represented victims of Lane in the first lawsuit, has one new client who claims abuse at Lane's hands.

"I'm very shocked that I haven't received additional calls from (victims of) Bernard Lane," Lyons said.

In Milford, attorneys Michael Kaplan and James Wittorff are working with two new clients who are allegedly victims of clergy sex abuse.

One new client is a 40-year-old Bellingham man who claims he was raped by the Rev. Paul M. Desilets while he was an altar boy and member of the Assumption Parish basketball team during the 1970s, Kaplan said.

Desilets, now retired, was scheduled to appear in a Canadian court Friday for an extradition hearing, according to Elizabeth Stammo, spokeswoman for Worcester County District Attorney John J. Conte.

cw1The former Bellingham associate pastor faces 16 counts of indecent assault and battery on a child, 10 counts of assault and battery on a person 14 years or older and six counts of assault and battery. The charges stem from alleged sexual abuse against nearly 20 altar boys between 1978 and 1984.

Neither of his two new clients have raised the issue of money, Kaplan said. Rather, they are interested in seeking justice and clearing up the record, he said.

"I think there will be more suspicion of fraudulent claims," Lyons said.

Paul Baier, spokesman for Wellesley-based Survivors First, predicted the Boston Archdiocese would prefer to settle claims before they are filed in court.

"The church is not an idiot. The last thing they want is a big plaintiff counsel coming forward," said Baier, who knows five alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse in New England who have recently decided to come forward.

Talk of a second round of lawsuits comes at turbulent financial times for the church.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Last month, church officials announced Boston College would buy the headquarters of the Boston Archdiocese and 43 acres of land for $99.4 million.

The proceeds of the sale will be used to pay off $90 million in loans taken to pay for the legal settlement of cases involving clergy sexual abuse of minors, church officials said.