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Tentative Pact OKd in Church Sex Abuse Suit

Religion: Boston priest's alleged victims to get $10 million. In another case, accuser drops charges.

September 04, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — The Boston archdiocese and alleged victims of former priest John J. Geoghan reached a tentative $10-million settlement late Tuesday, a lawyer for the archdiocese said. The proposed agreement capped more than a year of negotiation--and followed the collapse of an earlier accord estimated at $20 million to $30 million.

Reached late Tuesday, J. Owen Todd, an attorney for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, said of the new agreement that ''tentative is the operative word.'' He said he understood that all 86 of the alleged Geoghan victims covered by the proposed agreement ''are prepared to sign'' the new settlement.

Mitchell Garabedian, the attorney representing the 86 plaintiffs, could not be reached for comment.

The proposed settlement came on the same day that a onetime altar boy dropped a sexual abuse lawsuit against a high-ranking Catholic Church official in Boston after doubts arose about the authenticity of the allegations.

The January trial of Geoghan set off a massive sexual abuse scandal when documents were published in the Boston Globe showing that the archdiocese long had known of sexual misconduct charges against Geoghan.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 05, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 13 inches; 472 words Type of Material: Correction
Church scandal--A story in Tuesday's Section A misidentified the client of Boston attorney Ellen Martin. She represents Msgr. Michael Smith Foster.

Rather than removing him from church work involving contact with young parishioners, the documents showed, the archdiocese repeatedly moved Geoghan from parish to parish--all the while giving him access to children.

Geoghan's alleged victims already were in settlement talks when the former priest was found guilty in January of fondling a child in the early 1990s. Geoghan is serving a nine-to 10-year sentence.

More serious charges of child rape against Geoghan at first were thrown out on grounds that the statute of limitations had expired. But a Boston judge reinstated those charges late last week, and Geoghan is scheduled to stand trial on child rape as early as next month.

Todd said the new settlement would draw only on archdiocese insurance funds. He said the earlier, larger agreement would have required liquidating property or otherwise drawing on church assets.

After the lawsuit against Msgr. Michael Smith Foster was dropped, Foster said, "I am grateful to God that the truth has been revealed." Foster, chief canon lawyer for the archdiocese of Boston, added, "These false accusations have done harm, not only to me, but also to the true victims of abuse."

In a suit filed last month, Paul Edwards, 35, accused Foster of sexually abusing him at a Boston-area parish in the early 1980s. Edwards also accused the late Father William Cummings of molesting him during the same period.

But supporters of the priests soon came forward to challenge the claims of Edwards, who was a teenage altar boy when he said the abuse took place. Edwards claimed, for example, that he was raped on an overnight trip to New York City sponsored by the Catholic Youth Organization. But adult chaperons recalled the outing as a day excursion.

Other inconsistencies also surfaced, and late last week, Edwards' lawyer, Eric J. Parker, abruptly withdrew from the case, saying that "issues arose central to the allegations" Edwards made. Neither Edwards nor his current attorney, Ellen Martin, was available for comment.

Foster, who immediately denied Edwards' charges, said Tuesday he has not heard from the archdiocese since he was put on administrative leave last month.

He said the accusations had left him "bewildered, frustrated, angry and disappointed," but that he maintained "an inner peace" because he knew the charges were false. Under procedures set forth by the archdiocese, Foster must ask to be reinstated.

Edwards' lawsuit was dropped without prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled.

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