The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Judge weighs church lawsuit

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 8/8/2002

It was either a long-awaited end to years of legal wrangling for 86 alleged sexual abuse victims of former priest John J. Geoghan or the first flicker of a deal, snuffed out when enough money could not be found.

Now, Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney must decide whether the $15 million to $30 million settlement agreement, announced in March and abandoned by the Archdiocese of Boston in May, was a binding contract that Cardinal Bernard F. Law and 15 other defendants must uphold.

On the final day of the hearing to determine whether the agreement will be enforced, lawyers for Law and other church officials called two witnesses: lawyers for two of the defendants, Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Bishop John B. McCormack of New Hampshire.

Both lawyers testified that they didn't believe the settlement agreement was final, and that neither they nor their clients had yet authorized lawyers for the archdiocese to settle the lawsuits.

''I understood that you would come personally and meet with Bishop Daily and discuss the settlement and make sure he had a comfort level prior to the execution of it,'' Kevin Kearney, Daily's lawyer, said in response to a question by Wilson D. Rogers Jr., a lawyer for five of the church officials being sued.

Daily is a defendant in 58 of the 86 civil lawsuits alleging abuse by Geoghan, who is serving a six-year prison sentence for molesting a boy in a public swimming pool.

Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer for the alleged victims, asked Kearney during questioning to read part of a statement Daily released in March saying he regretted some decisions he had made in defending priests accused of sexual abuse.

In that statement Daily had referred to the Boston settlement agreement, saying ''a number of civil cases recently settled.''

The other lawyer who testified yesterday was Manchester, N.H., attorney Bradford Cook, who represents McCormack, a defendant in just one of the cases.

Sweeney's decision may not come for weeks. She gave the lawyers, who also made their closing arguments yesterday, until Aug. 30 to file post-trial briefs.

William H. Gordon, a lawyer for the alleged victims, argued yesterday that Law and the other defendants could not walk away from the agreement simply because they changed their minds.

''The court was led to believe the cases were settled,'' Gordon argued. ''The plaintiffs were led to believe the cases were settled.''

Lawyers for the archdiocese said money was available to fund the settlement agreement, Gordon argued. And Donna Morrissey, Law's spokeswoman, listed a host of potential financing sources in an e-mail to a television reporter, read in court this week.

''Not only did they tell us this, they told the world that,'' Gordon said. ''There was nothing we knew of that said, `Well, we can change our minds after you do everything you're supposed to do.'''

But lawyers for the archdiocese argued that although they hoped they would reach a final agreement, they did not.

''Your Honor, there was no agreement,'' said Rogers. ''We worked hard, we tried valiantly to get an agreement.''

The settlement agreement was still tentative, lawyers for the defendants argued, because funding had not been obtained and only three defendants had signed the agreement. ''[It's] no good for the plaintiffs to have a settlement with the 16 defendants without the money to carry out that settlement,'' argued J. Owen Todd, Law's lawyer.

Todd also disputed arguments of the alleged victims' lawyers that the defendants' signatures were not necessary to finalize the pact.

The statement attributed to Law when the settlement agreement was first announced expressed optimism about the agreement yet caution about the remaining work to reach a final resolution, Todd argued. ''Unfortunately, it was only the note of optimism that was taken out and quoted over and over,'' he said.

But, he added, Law alone could not authorize the settlement agreement on behalf of the other 15 defendants.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at

This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 8/8/2002.
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