The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church

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$20m accord seen in Geoghan cases

By Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 3/5/2002

The Boston Archdiocese and lawyers for 86 people who sued former priest John J. Geoghan reached a tentative agreement yesterday to settle sexual molestation lawsuits whose revelations have severely shaken public confidence in Cardinal Bernard F. Law, sources knowledgeable about the decision said last night.

The settlement, which is scheduled to be finalized today, is expected to cost the archdiocese between $20 million and $30 million, with an arbitrator setting the final award for each claimant.

But even when the lawyers formalize the agreement today, all 86 plaintiffs and the 17 defendants - including Law - will have to sign as well. The actual arbitration process is not expected to start until May.

Since the mid-1990s, the church has paid another 100 victims of Geoghan an estimated $15 million. If the church pays just the minimum, $20 million, under the new agreement, that would put the cost of the pedophilia of one priest at $35 million. The arbitrator's decisions could push that cost higher.

The tentative agreement, reached just after 5 p.m. yesterday, came after 11 months of intense negotiations that took place in secret, even as plaintiff lawyer Mitchell Garabedian and Wilson Rogers Jr., the lead attorney for the archdiocese, battled in public over Garabedian's demands for internal church documents about the oversight of Geoghan as he molested children in six parishes over 30 years.

Just last week, Garabedian made his fourth request to take a sworn deposition this week of the cardinal himself, a prospect that other lawyers said the church was eager to avoid. But that move came as the two sides were apparently inching ever closer to agreement.

The documents that Garabedian wanted were made available to him, but under a court-ordered confidentiality seal that prevented public access to them. In January, those documents were made public after another judge ordered them unsealed on a motion by the Globe.

The tentative agreement will be costly for the church. On average, the payments to the 86 victims would be between $232,000 and $348,000. But according to court files, a dozen or more of the plaintiffs are parents of abuse victims who would receive minimal payments, according to the sources who spoke on condition they not be identified.

And some other victims were not as seriously abused, and probably would receive modest settlements. By some estimates, that means that many victims who were seriously abused as children will receive payments of over $500,000 each.

Last month, Geoghan began serving a sentence of nine to 10 years after being convicted of one count of molesting one child. He still faces criminal charges in two upcoming trials, one of which charges him with raping a child.

Donna M. Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said last night that she could not discuss the negotiations. But she said: ''We want to make sure there is a fair and equitable agreement as soon as possible. And we want to do what's right for the victims.''

Garabedian could not be reached for comment last night.

It was Garabedian's three-year public battle with the archdiocese that set the stage for the public release of evidence that Law removed Geoghan from one parish in 1984 for molesting children, almost immediately sent him to a new parish in Weston, and returned him to Weston for two more years after he was treated for pedophilia in 1989.

The cardinal has called those decisions, in hindsight, ''tragically flawed'' and apologized profusely. But the Geoghan documents, and disclosures that the archdiocese secretly settled molestation cases involving more than 70 other priests, have caused serious damage to the archdiocese's reputation.

Since the disclosures, Law has had to remove another 10 priests from their positions and, under public pressure, turn the names of about 90 priests over to prosecutors. The scandal in Boston has reverberated nationwide, with dioceses around the country also making admissions about past cases and, in some instances, removing priests from their parishes.

The Globe reported on Sunday that the sex abuse scandal in Boston will be the costliest in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States, with a combined cost estimated at $100 million or more. That figure includes cases settled in the last decade, pending cases, and a surge of new accusations that have surfaced since the extent of the scandal was revealed in January.

In addition to the 84 lawsuits that are headed for settlement, there are four other pending lawsuits against Geoghan, and 48 claims pending against other priests.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 3/5/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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