Diocese Settles Suit for $950,000

By Kathryn Marchocki
Union Leader
October 11, 2002

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester yesterday announced it reached a $ 950,000 settlement with 16 men who were allegedly sexually abused by priests in New Hampshire.

The settlement brings to a close civil suits the men brought against the diocese this year, claiming they were sexually assaulted while minors by eight priests from 1957 to 1982.

No individual settlement exceeds $ 150,000, said Diane Murphy Quinlan, the diocese's assistant to the delegate for policy administration.

"Obviously, they are relieved that this is a complete resolution of their case. They are very happy that they didn't have to be in a public forum where they would be grilled and they don't have to explain things that happened to them that are, in many cases, personal," said Concord attorney Charles G. Douglas III, who represented the men.

Douglas called the agreement "very fair, very equitable" and praised the diocese for its "good faith negotiations" and "openness." While church officials did not require any terms of confidentiality in the mutual settlement agreement, Douglas said his clients stipulated they remain anonymous. The diocese also agreed not to reveal amounts each individual received.

None of the men, whose ages now range from the mid-30s to late 50s, attended yesterday's press conference at the Manchester chancery.

The settlement is the first to be reached since negotiations began last summer between diocesan attorneys and three lawyers who brought civil suits on behalf of 130 men and women who accused clerics of sexually abusing them.

"Today is an important event in the lives of 16 people. But I think, too, it's a hopeful sign for all of us. Our ability to . . . work with people well and to care for people who have been harmed," said the Rev. Edward J. Arsenault, chancellor and the bishop's delegate for sexual misconduct.

"In New Hampshire, we enjoy a strong tradition of seeing hopeful signs even in small beginnings. It's my sincere and firm hope that today's achievement will lead us to further healing," he added. Manchester attorney Peter E. Hutchins, who filed a class action suit on behalf of 58 men and women, said he is continuing to negotiate with diocesan attorneys and has a two-day meeting scheduled with them in two weeks.

"It's following essentially the same process as his (Douglas)," Hutchins said.

"We are just two to three weeks behind due to the size of our client base," he added.

Manchester attorney Mark A. Abramson, who represents 55 men and one woman, has said he plans to take his cases to trial after breaking off negotiations several weeks ago.

Quinlan said the diocese will pay for the settlement it reached with Douglas from a "non-restricted insurance fund" that includes proceeds from insurance policies and reserves set aside for unanticipated and uninsured claims. The diocese is insured by Lloyd's of London, said the diocese's attorney, James Higgins of Manchester.

Parishes pay 0.8 percent of their annual income to the insurance fund to buy liability insurance for the church, she said.

No general fund or savings from the diocese were used in the settlement, Quinlan said. Nor were any parish, school or institutional funds used, she added.

"From the inception of these cases, Bishop (John B.) McCormack has insisted that this settlement process be considered a pastoral response that has certain legal dimensions," Quinlan said.

McCormack did not attend the press conference.

The settlement includes a letter from the bishop to each man apologizing for the hurt they suffered and offering to meet with them individually.

The diocese also offered counseling services and pastoral care and will assist the men in notifying civil law enforcement officials.

Douglas said some of his clients already are in counseling and others have indicated they will seek counseling. "I have clients where I am the only person they ever told what happened to them," Douglas said, adding they never even discussed it with their families.

"For some of these folks, I'm still the only one who knows," he added.

While two met Wednesday with Arsenault, Douglas said he could not predict how others will react to the bishop's invitation to meet.

"Everyone is in different places. Some have different attitudes towards the church than others. Some actually attend Mass regularly and others have not been in church for decades," he explained.

Of the eight priests accused by the men, six are from the Manchester diocese and two from other dioceses. Four are dead.

The settlements include cases brought against priests from other dioceses. Arsenault said he is responsible for the people who bring sexual abuse complaints.

"It's not important where the priest came from," he said. In its desire to reach a mutual settlement, the diocese told its attorneys to not raise such legal issues as statute of limitations and requiring plaintiffs to publicly disclose their names, Quinlan said.


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