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December 4, 2003
Boston Archbishop Will Sell Residence for Abuse Payout
By PAM BELLUCK
BOSTON, Dec. 3 — The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston said on Wednesday that to help pay an $85 million settlement to compensate hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy it would sell the archbishop's grand residence, which housed Boston's Catholic Church leaders for 75 years.
The residence, modeled after an Italian palazzo and appointed in marble and mahogany, had long been an embodiment of the church's stature in heavily Roman Catholic Boston, but it had become a despised symbol in the sexual abuse crisis. As the home of then-Archbishop Bernard F. Law, the residence, in the Brighton neighborhood, represented what many perceived as the archdiocese's indifference to its abused and angry parishioners.
In fact, last summer when Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley took the place of Cardinal Law, who resigned under pressure, he quickly decided he would not live in the residence and moved into a small rectory behind the city's cathedral, a good distance from Brighton.
Yet, even then, archdiocese officials continued to say there were no plans to sell the residence to pay for the settlement.
On Wednesday, an archdiocese spokesman, the Rev. Christopher Coyne, said Archbishop O'Malley had realized he had no choice.
"The archbishop had said that in order to pay for the settlement he would not use any present parish assets, or money from the Catholic Appeal or from the capital campaign," said Father Coyne, referring to church fund-raising campaigns. "That left him very few assets to use, and the only big one that was left was the residence. He did what needed to be done."
The residence is part of a 60-acre property that includes St. John's Seminary and the chancery buildings, which house the archdiocese's administrative offices. Father Coyne said about 28 of the acres would be put up for sale, including a gymnasium and a garage near the seminary, about 19 acres of fields and about 9 acres around the residence.
Father Coyne would not say what the property was expected to sell for. In September 2002, at the height of the sexual abuse crisis, the archdiocese took out a $38 million mortgage on the entire 60 acres. In August, The Boston Globe reported that the church had spent about $27 million of that line of credit, which was given to the archdiocese last year by the Knights of Columbus. It is not clear how the mortgage would affect the value of the sale.
Father Coyne said the archdiocese expected that the balance of the $85 million settlement would be paid for out of two insurance policies.
"We are very confident that between the two sources we will be able to realize the $85 million," he said.
Robert Morrissey, a member of the archdiocesan finance council, which would have to approve the terms of any sale, said he believed the 28 acres, by itself, was "worth much more" than the $85 million.
"There's no question in my mind that there's more than enough to cover the settlement," he said. "But it's a real stab in the heart for the church because they're giving away maybe the most valuable piece of property the church owns in all of Massachusetts."
Mr. Morrissey said he supported the sale to pay for the abuse settlements because "from my point of view, it should come out of the church."
"It shouldn't come out of fat cats' " donating money to the church, he said, adding "I think it should hurt."
He also said he did not believe that proceeds from the sale of the 28 acres would be used to offset the mortgage, which could remain attached to the rest of the estate.
The decision to sell the residence, which the archbishop made late Wednesday after consulting with various archdiocesan committees, was applauded by abuse victims, parishioners and others.
"Bravo," said Gary Bergeron, one of the 552 abuse victims who will be compensated out of the settlement. "We had asked them to do that so many times over the last two years, and at all of those meetings we've had, we had suggested that as a symbolic step, if nothing else."
Bernie McDaid, another victim, said, "My first gut reaction is I wish they did this a long time ago, and it would have meant more to me."
Francis Schussler Fiorenza, professor of Roman Catholic studies at Harvard, said the sale of the residence, built in 1926, "does have symbolic value."
"I think it's very important in terms of leadership," Professor Fiorenza said.
At least one potential bidder for the 28 acres has already emerged: Boston College, which is across the street from the Brighton property.
Although Boston College has long indicated that it would be interested in the property, John B. Dunn, a spokesman for the college, said on Wednesday night that the fact that the archbishop actually decided to sell it was unanticipated.
"We were surprised," Mr. Dunn said. "Given the proximity, Boston College has an interest in the property."
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company