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The Nation

No Settlement Yet in Church Sex Scandal, Lawyer Says

Abuse: Attorney for 86 alleged victims of priest challenges the Boston Archdiocese's announcement of a tentative pact.

September 05, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — The lawyer for 86 alleged victims of the priest whose conviction launched the sex scandal now roiling the Catholic Church said Wednesday that a settlement announcement by the archdiocese here was premature.

"It's not a done deal," attorney Mitchell Garabedian said at a news conference. "There is an offer of $10 million. There has been no acceptance." Garabedian, who has spent more than a year negotiating with church officials, challenged a church lawyer's assertion late Tuesday that a tentative deal was in place.

"To call it tentative would be inaccurate," Garabedian said. Outside the archdiocese chancery Wednesday, Father Christopher Coyne said the two sides were "pretty close" to an agreement. But the church spokesman added that he could not say that "everyone is on board" with a new settlement, "because that is just not the case."

In March, both sides heralded a deal that reportedly would pay the 86 alleged victims of former priest John J. Geoghan from $20 million to $30 million. But weeks later, the church summarily backed out, saying the accord was too expensive. After first praising that agreement as an important step toward healing, Cardinal Bernard Law declared that his financial advisors said it was unworkable.

A church finance officer recently confirmed that the nation's fourth-largest archdiocese was exploring bankruptcy, among other "possible options."

Garabedian has pressed the court here to enforce the March pact as a contract in good standing. Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney is expected to rule shortly on the viability of that deal.

Beyond Garabedian's own client roster, hundreds of adults have stepped forward to say they were sexually abused by Geoghan or other priests from the Boston Archdiocese. More than 300 are said to be seeking financial restitution from the church here.

The 66-year-old Geoghan, convicted in January of fondling a boy at a community swimming pool in the early 1990s, is serving a nine-to 10-year prison term. He is scheduled to be tried as early as next month on more serious charges of child rape. Documents obtained by the Boston Globe in the course of Geoghan's trial showed that church officials here were aware for decades of sexual abuse complaints against him. Rather than removing Geoghan from work involving contact with children, the archdiocese transferred him from parish to parish.

A similar pattern emerged when the church released nearly 1,000 pages of records this spring showing that another priest, Father Paul Shanley, also had a long history of sexual abuse accusations. Shanley too was routinely transferred--ultimately to a parish in Southern California. Now retired, Shanley, 71, was extradited to Massachusetts and is in jail awaiting trial on child rape charges.

Garabedian stressed Wednesday that financial compensation was only part of what his clients are seeking. Many also have requested the opportunity to address the court so their recollections will become public record. "What you have to understand is that these cases are about more than money," the lawyer said. "People want closure. That's the main theme. They feel as though they've been dragged into this darkness and can't get out of it."

He would not say how many of his clients have agreed to the new church offer. All 86 must sign for the deal to go forward, Garabedian said. J. Owen Todd, a lawyer for the archdiocese, said the funds for the $10-million settlement would be covered by liability insurance. He said plaintiffs could receive payouts by the end of this month if the deal met court approval.

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