The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Deposition may wait if Ch. 11 filing is put off

By Stephen Kurkjian and Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 12/14/2002

Lawyers for the Archdiocese of Boston yesterday sought to delay next week's deposition of Cardinal Bernard F. Law in return for postponing any bankruptcy filing and intensifying their efforts to settle claims of clergy sexual abuse through negotiations.

In the wake of the announcement from Rome that Law was resigning as Boston's archbishop, lawyers for clergy abuse victims and the archdiocese met for hours yesterday in an attempt to determine if they could achieve a settlement of the claims without the archdiocese filing for bankruptcy, according to attorneys who attended the session or were briefed on it.

Law went to Rome last weekend to seek decisions on two momentous questions: Should he resign because of the uproar over his mishandling of the abuse cases, and should the archdiocese declare bankruptcy as a means of settling the suits?

The second question remains unanswered. According to the spokeswoman for the archdiocese and other officials, the Vatican made no decision on whether to permit the Boston church to file for bankruptcy.

Even though Law discussed the issue with Vatican officials during the week, spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey told reporters yesterday ''there is nothing new to report on bankruptcy or anything related to it.''

Another official, who asked not to be identified, said that Vatican financial specialists continue to examine the request to determine how it would affect the fiscal picture for the Boston Archdiocese, as well as others in the United States. ''Nothing happens in a vacuum and they want to know what the impact would be for other dioceses and archdioceses,'' the official said.

The decision on whether Boston will push to become the first US diocese or archdiocese to declare bankruptcy now shifts from Law to Bishop Richard G. Lennon, who was named by the Vatican as Law's temporary replacement. Law is expected to brief Lennon on his discussions with Vatican officials on the bankruptcy option when he returns to the United States this weekend, a source close to Law said last night.

Despite a clear signal from the Vatican, lawyers for the archdiocese and many victims have met secretly in hopes of setting ground rules that would allow for settlements without bankruptcy.

As a first step, the Rogers Law Firm, the archdiocese's principal lawyers in the case, asked that Tuesday's deposition of Law by Greenberg Traurig, which represents about half of the 500 victims of alleged clergy abuse, be postponed. Roderick MacLeish Jr., who has deposed Law five times in recent months, said he was not yet willing to agree to the postponement of Law's deposition.

''I've not seen enough good faith on their [the archdiocese's lawyers] part to justify calling a moratorium,'' MacLeish said. ''But I am encouraged by what I've heard so far.''

Part of that encouragement, MacLeish said, came from his conversations yesterday with an individual, whom he would only identify as an ''intermediary'' for the archdiocese, who asked MacLeish to consider putting on hold such legal steps as the scheduled depositions of Law.

Another attorney who is involved in the negotiations said that as a sign of good faith, the archdiocese was willing to provide to the victims' lawyers a list of properties that it is willing to sell to raise an initial $15 million to settle the cases. A ''global settlement'' to resolve the 500 cases has been estimated at at least $100 million.

The archdiocese's movement toward bankruptcy increased early last week when its Finance Council voted to give Law permission to seek Vatican approval for the filing. At the time, church officials said they favored bankruptcy because it would cut off future claims for past acts and increase the archdiocese's leverage with insurance companies, which have indicated to the archdiocese that they will not pay the full amount of the estimated claims.

MacLeish said that if he agrees to postpone Law's deposition - as well as one scheduled for Monday by Bishop John B. McCormack, Law's former deputy and now bishop of Manchester, N.H. - he expects to receive a pledge from the Rogers firm that it will intensify efforts to settle the cases through negotiations.

Other victims' lawyers said they hoped that the sentiments that Law voiced in his resignation statement on behalf of the victims might spur Lennon and the archdiocese to avoid bankruptcy.

''The archdiocese has blood on its hands in the way they treated many of these victims,'' said Stanley J. Spero of Cambridge, a lawyer for some of the victims. ''It's now time for them to close that door completely and start anew in how they treat these victims.''

The Rev. Robert W. Bullock, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Sharon and a leader of the Boston Priests Forum, echoed that sentiment, saying a bankruptcy filing would make the process of rebuilding trust more difficult. ''It would be a disaster for us. It would be a virus, a stigma that the entire church would have to suffer,'' Bullock said. ''It is an unbearable statement to say we are in bankruptcy, and would make rebuilding even more difficult.''

Michael S. Rosenwald of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 12/14/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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