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Alleged Clergy Abuse Victims Expected to Accept Settlement

Courts: The 86 claimants are to share $10 million from the Archdiocese of Boston.

September 19, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — Alleged victims of the former priest whose conviction set off a worldwide clerical sexual abuse scandal are expected today to accept a $10-million settlement from the Archdiocese of Boston.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents 86 men and women who say they were victimized by John J. Geoghan, said Wednesday that a court hearing today will determine whether the sole minor in the group can join in the agreement.

If, as expected, the court allows the minor's petition, Garabedian said, his clients and the Catholic Church will exchange releases and payment the same day.

The deal comes after more than a year of negotiation and the archdiocese's abrupt withdrawal in May from an original settlement estimated at $20 million to $30 million.

"It is time for closure," Garabedian said. "My clients would like to put this sordidness behind them. They understand that the leaders of the archdiocese don't care about them or their health and well-being. They feel it's time to step out of the darkness."

Father Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, said, "We are continuing to work toward the settlement and hope to get it finished. We are hoping that it will be brought to a timely conclusion that will be the first of many, hopefully."

Under the proposed settlement, 50 individuals will divide $9.3 million, Garabedian said. Twenty individuals will divide $540,000, and 16 parents of alleged victims will divide $160,000, the lawyer said.

The figure contrasts with a recent award in Northern California of $7.5 million to two alleged clerical abuse victims.

Documents obtained by the Boston Globe when Geoghan was on trial in an abuse case showed that top church officials here knew for years of sexual abuse complaints against him. Rather than removing him from work involving contact with children, the archdiocese routinely transferred Geoghan to new assignments where he worked with young people.

As a result of that trial, Geoghan began serving a nine-to 10-year prison sentence in January for fondling a boy at a community swimming pool in the 1990s. He is scheduled to be tried next month on child rape charges.

Garabedian said most of his clients were eager to finalize an agreement, especially since the church backed out of the first deal, which had been hailed by Cardinal Bernard Law, the nation's senior Catholic prelate, as an important step toward healing. The archdiocese cited financial concerns when it canceled the settlement.

Garabedian described the negotiations leading to today's likely deal as "very simple, not complicated. But the meetings with my clients were very intense. Some were more reluctant to settle than others."

David Clohessy, head of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) in St. Louis, lauded the alleged Geoghan victims.

"No amount of money can undo the pain, and frankly, these cases are never about money," he said.

"I think all survivors owe these brave men and women an enormous debt," he said, "because they were the sparkplugs that ignited a long overdue national examination of this terrible crime."

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