Local

Church abuse settlement finalized

byMeghan Dorney
9/26/2003

Victims’ attorneys met Sept. 23 and approved the language in the $85 million settlement agreement with the archdiocese, finalizing the offer.

The settlement in principle, reached two weeks ago among the steering committee of lawyers, was presented to all the victims’ attorneys for finalization.

While the settlement offer does not differ greatly from the original proposal, it does further detail the process that arbitrators will use in allocating the funds. The amount each victim will receive ranges from $80,000 to $300,000, based on the severity, type and duration of the abuse.

"It takes into account the best interests of the survivors," said Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents 120 alleged victims.

The agreement also reads that if arbitrators find that no harm was suffered by an alleged victim, the victim can opt out of the settlement and proceed to a court trial. The Archdiocese of Boston will have no part in the arbitration.

Lawyers agreed to extend the deadline by one week for victims to opt into the settlement, making Oct. 23 the new deadline. Checks for alleged victims are expected to be issued by Dec. 22.

According to Father Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, any changes made by the lawyers to the language in the tentative settlement agreement were approved by the archdiocese and that all parties are now in agreement as to the text. The archdiocese was not involved in detailing the process of arbitration, that is between the attorneys and the arbitrators, said Father Coyne.

Garabedian said about 95 percent of his clients have agreed to participate in the settlement. Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr. said the vast majority of his firm’s 260 clients have also agreed to participate.

"The archdiocese and Archbishop Seán are very pleased that many of the survivors see this as a just offer and that they are signing on because it brings an end to that one small part of the issues that we face, which is just compensation," said Father Coyne said. "But all of us recognize that there is so much more work that needs to be done in order to bring reconciliation and healing to the survivors, their families and the Archdiocese of Boston."

Victims’ lawyers approved the tentative settlement agreement Sept. 9, in which the Archdiocese of Boston agreed to pay $85 million to settle 552 cases of clergy sex abuse. The agreement came almost two years after the scandal became public, and just six weeks after Archbishop O’Malley took over the reins of the archdiocese.

Archbishop O’Malley took active steps immediately after his July 30 installation to bring the lawsuits to a close. One day after his installation, the archbishop asked Attorney Thomas Hannigan Jr., who helped him to settle similar lawsuits in Fall River, to be lead counsel in legal matters involving clergy sexual abuse.

On Aug. 8, the archbishop made an initial settlement offer of $55 million, which was rejected by victims’ lawyers. The offer was then increased to $65 million, with plaintiffs’ lawyers asking for between $90-$120 million.

A series of recent, intense negotiations, including a six and-a-half hour meeting between the archbishop and a steering committee of lawyers Sept. 7, helped to narrow the gap and reach the $85 million deal, which was approved by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney.

Associated Press materials contributed to this story