Archdiocese Nears Accord in Abuse Suits

March 6, 2002

By PAM BELLUCK

New York Times


BOSTON, March 5 - The Archdiocese of Boston has tentatively
agreed to pay $20 million to $30 million to settle scores
of cases against a former priest accused of molesting
nearly 200 children in six parishes over 30 years.

The agreement, which has yet to be completed, would resolve
most of the lawsuits that seek to hold the archdiocese, and
in some cases Cardinal Bernard F. Law, responsible for the
actions of priests accused of sexually abusing children.

The agreement, first reported in The Boston Globe, would
settle 84 lawsuits involving John J. Geoghan, 66, a
defrocked priest who was shuttled from parish to parish by
archdiocesan officials, though they knew about his history
of pedophilia. That would leave four other lawsuits against
Mr. Geoghan and 48 lawsuits against other priests
unresolved.

The Geoghan case and disclosures about how the church
handled it have created a scandal over pedophile priests in
Boston, one that is having reverberations in dioceses
around the country. Since January, Cardinal Law, the
nation's senior Catholic leader, has apologized twice for
allowing Father Geoghan to be placed in a parish in 1984
when the cardinal knew of his pedophile past.

The archdiocese has since turned over to prosecutors the
names of nearly 90 priests accused of sexually abusing
children in the last 50 years. Ten priests were still in
active ministry, though suspended from parishes.

Other dioceses, including Philadelphia, Los Angeles and St.
Louis, have suspended priests in response to the scandal in
Boston and have given prosecutors the names of priests
accused of abuse.

The scandal has also brought calls in Boston for the
resignation of Cardinal Law, and polls have indicated that
a majority of Catholics believe that the archdiocese
covered up cases of abuse by priests. The cardinal has
repeatedly said in recent weeks that he will not step down.


The tentative agreement in the Geoghan case would give 86
plaintiffs in the 84 lawsuits $232,000 to $348,000 each.
The awards for each plaintiff would be decided by a
mediator, and for the agreement to be final, each plaintiff
and the 17 defendants, including the cardinal, must approve
the terms.

Some plaintiffs have more serious complaints than others,
and would receive larger sums. Twelve plaintiffs are
parents of children who say they were abused, and they
would receive smaller settlements.

The archdiocese has already settled about 100 cases against
Mr. Geoghan for about $15 million.

Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer for the 86 plaintiffs, said
he had been trying to negotiate a settlement for 11 months.
He would not discuss the terms of the tentative agreement,
except to say that unlike the previous settlements in the
Geoghan case, this one would not prevent the parties from
discussing the case.

"They won't have confidentiality requirements if I have
anything to do with it," Mr. Garabedian said.

Archdiocesan officials also declined to discuss the
specifics of the agreement. One person with knowledge of
the church's side of the negotiations said "a great many
issues" needed to be resolved in a meeting between lawyers
that began this afternoon. The meeting ended without
resolution of all of them.

"We're close," Mr. Garabedian said.

Donna M. Morrissey,
an archdiocesan spokeswoman, said: "We want to come to a
fair and just resolution of these cases as quickly as
possible, one that is in the best interests of the victims.
We believe that all the parties are working in good faith."


The tentative agreement was reached as Mr. Garabedian
sought this week for the fourth time to depose Cardinal Law
in the Geoghan cases. The person with knowledge of the
archdiocesan position said that the cardinal would not be
deposed if a settlement was near.

Mr. Geoghan does not have a lawyer in the civil cases and
has not contested the allegations. Last month, he began
serving a 9- to 10- year sentence for fondling a 10-year-
old boy. He faces two more trials on sexual abuse charges.

One plaintiff in the Geoghan case said tonight that he was
not impressed with the dollar amount of the tentative
agreement.

"When you talk about $250,000 for years of going over this
in my mind, that's peanuts to me," said Ralph DelVecchio,
45, who said Mr. Geoghan molested him when he was 10 or 11
years old. On the other hand, Mr. DelVecchio said, "How
does anybody put a price on the whole thing?"

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