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October 25
Victims could now collect

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Geoghan's sister hits guards

October 1
Geoghan's sister to speak

September 27
Conviction erasure protested
Druce is hospitalized again
Guard ad seeks understanding

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Inquiry: Druce beaten as child

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Druce pleads not guilty in slay
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Report says Druce in a rage

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Letter: Druce abused as a boy

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Geoghan bore guards' abuse
Lawyer: Mail deluges accused

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Expanded panel is sought

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Druce is returned from hospital

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Geoghan consultant ties eyed

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Geoghan panel to expand

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Spotlight Report

Law aides balking at Geoghan costs

Settlement seen as risk to finances

By Stephen Kurkjian and Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 4/30/2002


John J. Geoghan (Globe Staff Photo)
At least three members of the Archdiocese of Boston's 15-member financial advisory committee are expected to urge Cardinal Bernard F. Law on Thursday to abandon the multimillion-dollar settlement the church has tentatively agreed to pay to 86 victims of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan.

The three members and perhaps others contend that the cost of the agreement - between $15 million and $30 million - is too high given the church's financial condition and the prospect that more people will file claims.

Because the committee is advisory, however, the dissent of some or even a majority of its members may not deter Law from approving the settlement, which he publicly endorsed when it was tentatively agreed to in March. Last week, a spokesman said Law still intended to sign the agreement.

As an alternative to the costly settlement for the Geoghan victims, some of the committee members are recommending that the archdiocese establish a fund that would pay for the settlements of all individuals who have been abused by priests in the Boston Archdiocese, and not just Geoghan victims, members said.

But the maximum amount that would be offered to individual victims would be $200,000, far less than the $400,000 or more that many of the Geoghan victims are expected to receive.

Church advisers are fearful that without a reasonable cap for damage awards, the archdiocese could find itself in perilous fiscal condition. Since the scandal first broke in January, about 500 new alleged victims of priests have retained lawyers in just four law firms, according to figures obtained by the Globe.

Not counting the new victims who are making claims, the archdiocese was already expected to pay out $70 million to $80 million to settle sexual abuse claims since 1992. That amount includes the cost of the Geoghan settlements, about 40 other claims that were pending, and hundreds of other cases that were settled, mostly in secret, over the last several years. The cost of settling with new claimants could be catastrophic for the church, according to these advisers.

Rejecting the Geoghan settlements would present a public relations nightmare for Law. When the terms were announced on March 12, Law said in a statement that ''the resolution of those 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.''

Despite the concerns, Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer for the Geoghan victims, said the cardinal's lawyer, Wilson Rogers Jr., has assured him that arbitration sessions to set specific damage awards will start late next week.

For that step to take place, he noted, Law and all the other defendants in the lawsuits have to sign the agreement. As of last week, Law had not signed it.

Garabedian noted that all 86 of his clients have signed the agreement, with the understanding that Law and the other church defendants would also sign.

''For the defendants not to enter into a settlement agreement would make it difficult for the archdiocese to ever rebuild any sense of trust with any victim of abuse by a priest,'' he said.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the cardinal, said last week that as far as he knows, the archdiocese plans to go ahead with the settlement as it was agreed to. ''That means he [Law] intends to sign it,'' Coyne said.

Donna Morrissey, a spokeswoman for Law, did not return phone calls last night about Thursday's meeting.

Whether the committee, which includes several Boston business leaders, has the power to overrule the cardinal is doubtful. Several members, who asked that they not be identified by name, said they believe that the committee's chief responsibility is to offer business and financial advice to the cardinal. Their only legal role is to sign off on any transactions that involve the mortgaging or sale of church real estate. But they said they are uncertain of the limits of their role since the committee has never before faced such a substantial fiscal question.

One lawyer familiar with the committee's work said he believes that the panel is required under archdiocesan rules to approve all payments of more than $1 million.

The agenda for Thursday's meeting at the chancery includes a discussion on how the archdiocese would pay for the Geoghan settlements. Law is expected to attend the meeting and participate in the discussion, as are Archdiocese Chancellor David W. Smith and Rogers, Law's lawyer.

The archdiocese has refused to detail how it intends to pay for the Geoghan settlement. However, according to lawyers familiar with the negotiations, the archdiocese would deposit $7.5 million into a bank account to pay for the first wave of settlements. A mediator, Commonwealth Mediation, would set the amount of each award, with the total to be between $15 million and $30 million.

Under the tentative agreement, the 86 victims - 70 victims of abuse and 16 relatives - would receive payments between $232,000 and $348,000. But according to court files, 36 of the victims would receive either $10,000 or $75,000 each. That means the remaining 50 victims may receive payments that average $400,000.

Ross Kerber of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

Stephen Kurkjian's e-mail address is kurkjian@globe.com. Walter V. Robinson's e-mail address is wrobinson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 4/30/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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