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Spotlight Report

Observer: Law says deal was not final

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 7/19/2002

Cardinal Bernard F. Law was questioned under oath yesterday about his withdrawal from a March settlement agreement with 86 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse and steadfastly proclaimed that the deal was never final, according to one of the men suing Law.

''Today he concentrated on trying to convince everyone that there was never a settlement,'' said Mark Keane, an alleged victim who observed the deposition. Law, Keane said, suggested instead, ''There was a proposed settlement.''

But yesterday church officials offered their own interpretation of the settlement breakdown: Rather than abandoning the alleged victims of convicted child molester John J. Geoghan, Law was trying to help every victim of priest sexual abuse in the archdiocese, said the Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

''The cardinal himself wanted to reassert, over and over, his desire for a fair and equitable resolution for all victims and not just some,'' Coyne said after the deposition. Later, he added, ''The cardinal, in light of the decision made by the Finance Council, agreed with them in the sense that if we're going to be talking about taking care of victims and their families, we need to make sure that we have the resources available to do so.''

Lawyers on both sides declined to discuss the deposition, Law's fourth, which lasted 21/2 hours. But several alleged victims of defrocked priest Geoghan who had signed the settlement agreement sat through the deposition and later spoke about it.

All 86 alleged victims signed the settlement agreement, and they argue that the $15 million to $30 million deal is binding. At a hearing that begins July 31, they will try to convince Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney to enforce the agreement.

Law publicly supported the deal until his handpicked Finance Council voted it down, saying the archdiocese needed to consider the full cost of all claims by alleged victims. Last week, Sweeney said from the bench that only Law is responsible for rejecting the decision and that he cannot use the council's vote as a legal defense for abandoning the settlement.

Asked about Sweeney's statement, Coyne said, ''The question arises as to whether that was a ruling or an opinion by Judge Sweeney. Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer for the alleged victims of Geoghan, said Sweeney was unambiguous. ''That was a ruling,'' he said. ''I have no doubt.''

Also yesterday, Sweeney allowed lawyers to extend a waning 30-day truce for two more weeks. Lawyers - not including Garabedian - who represent more than 200 alleged victims, and lawyers for the archdiocese and Law agreed to the truce to allow more time for settlement talks.

Jeffrey A. Newman, a lawyer for more than 100 alleged victims, was pleased by the extension. ''These past few days, we've made more progress on the discussions,'' he said. ''I am still hopeful that we can bring it to resolution.''

Kathleen Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com

This story ran on page A12 of the Boston Globe on 7/19/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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