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Spotlight Report

Victims ponder accord, anguish

By Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 3/13/2002

Fifty sexually abused victims of former priest John J. Geoghan are expected to receive, on average, $500,000 each, with some of the more seriously abused among them receiving amounts far greater than that, according to details of a settlement announced yesterday that ends a massive lawsuit and closes an ignominious chapter in the history of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Another 36 victims, who are either parents of abused children or to whom Geoghan exposed himself, will receive lesser amounts.

But while the 86 victims of Geoghan in this case will receive between $15 million and $30 million, the healing has only begun, said victims in a sometimes emotional press conference yesterday.

"This isn't happy money. This is blood money," said Mitchell Garabedian, who represented the plaintiffs in 11 months of what he called contentious and tedious negotiations.

"It is not going to put their lives back together," he added. "They are not going to be buying yachts and floating around the Bahamas and living the good life."

In a press release, Cardinal Bernard F. Law said he hoped "the resolution of these cases will continue the healing process. This settlement is an important closure for these victims who have long endured the damage done to them by John Geoghan."

At the press conference, four victims of Geoghan expressed the hope that they could get on with their lives. But John Greene, who was abused by Geoghan at Blessed Sacrament in Saugus and yesterday struggled to contain his emotions, said he felt no sense of satisfaction about the settlement. "I'm embarrassed to be here," he said. "All I was trying to do was help myself and move on in my life."

Greene and three other victims lashed out at Law and the church for the abuse they suffered from Geoghan, who was transferred from parish to parish between the 1960s and the 1990s, even though church authorities knew he was abusing children.

"I've heard enough apologizing by him," Patrick McSorley of Hyde Park said of Law.

While both sides have reached an agreement, some final details still need to be settled, noted Garabedian and church spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey. All 86 plaintiffs and 17 defendants must sign the agreement, which in its draft version is about 15 pages. A tentative deal was first worked out March 4, and was finished during a marathon negotiating session on Monday night.

Several contentious issues needed to be straightened out over the past few months. In the end, the church agreed that there would be no confidentiality agreements that bound the victims to secrecy and that Garabedian could accept more clients who say they were abused by Geoghan. The church also agreed to drop its initial insistence on a settlement cap of $10 million.

The last problem, Garabedian said, was the church's insistence that it be allowed to do more background investigations on the victims. "My position was simple," said Garabedian. "If I can't do your clients, you can't do mine." The talks were mediated by Paul A. Finn.

Other attorneys said the publicity surrounding the case has led other people alleging abuse by priests to call their offices and that the settlement provides a possible framework for other cases.

Garabedian said he has been contacted by at least 100 more alleged victims of priests, including 16 more people claiming they were abused by Geoghan. He also said he is investigating claims against three priests he said are still working in the archdiocese.

Attorney Jeffrey A. Newman said since the scandal broke in January, he has filed suits for 32 victims against 12 archdiocesan priests. He said the settlement helps set a standard for settling other cases and said he's in "informal" talks with the church and a mediator.

Carmen Durso, another attorney who has handled sex abuse cases against priests, said he has been approached by 10 alleged victims. But he said he is unsure whether this settlement will serve as a template for other cases.

"It remains to be seen if they offer mediation for my clients," said Durso.

The Geoghan settlement calls for victims to have two-hour meetings in front of a pair of mediators. The meetings are about how much money each person will receive because of their pain and suffering, and not liability. High and low dollar amounts have been set for each person.

The mediators will each pick an amount and the person will receive the average, said Garabedian. The meetings will start at the end of January and continue through October.

The church will also set aside cash in escrow to make the payments. Asked if he knew how the church would get the money, Garabedian said he did not. "They started to whine about it, and I said, forget it, we all have our problems."

The archdiocese has already settled claims against Geoghan for about $15 million. The total paid out in settlements by the archdiocese for abuse by priests is expected to total $100 million. Because of pressure from law enforcement officials, the archdiocese has turned over the names of nearly 100 priests to authorities for possible prosecution.

Geoghan last month began serving a 9-to-10 year sentence for fondling a child in Middlesex County. While two charges of child rape were recently dismissed against him because the statute of limitations had run out, he still faces one more criminal case.

Both Garabedian and Law praised the victims for their courage. "They are courageous individuals who deserve and need our full support and prayers," said Law. "I pray every day for their peace and recovery, and final resolution for all victims."

Matt Carroll can be reached at mcarroll@globe.com

This story ran on page A25 of the Boston Globe on 3/13/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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