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Spotlight Report

Firm finds new total on church insurance

Finding could pave the way to settlement

By Stephen Kurkjian and Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 12/15/2002

In a finding that could spur a global settlement of the clergy abuse cases, a law firm advising the Boston Archdiocese has concluded that the church has at least $90 million in insurance coverage to pay for the claims of some 500 alleged victims of priests, according to lawyers and others briefed on the review.

The recently completed study of church insurance records by the Boston law firm Goodwin Procter is certain to add weight to the argument by lawyers for the victims that the claims can be paid without the archdiocese seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Travelers and Kemper, the two companies that insured the archdiocese during the years that most of the abuse took place, have balked at paying the claims, contending that most of their coverage had been depleted by payments for earlier cases.

A previous attempt by the archdiocese's principal lawyers, the Rogers law firm, to analyze the church's policies was never completed, but estimated the total coverage at from $25 million to $40 million, one church official said.

Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose Greenberg Traurig law firm represents about half of the alleged victims, was heartened to hear of the results of the Goodwin Procter review. ''That is more than what we'd been told of before, and if it were made available it would help in resolving these claims,'' MacLeish said.

The insurers have sought to limit their exposure on the claims, saying that Boston church leaders broke their insurance contracts by failing to remove priests from service whom they suspected or knew were abusing children. State and federal courts have consistently held that an insurance company can deny coverage of a claim if it is able to show that the harm resulted from the reckless behavior of its policyholder.

The insurers have also raised the defense that the archdiocese failed to file the claims for coverage within the required amount of time.

J. Owen Todd, a lawyer for Cardinal Bernard F. Law, told a Superior Court judge last month that the archdiocese was preparing to seek a court order to force Kemper and Travelers to honor the policies. Kemper's policies covered the archdiocese between September 1977 and March 1983, while Travelers covered it between April 1983 and March 1989.

The lawyers representing the approximately 500 alleged victims have until Dec. 20 to specify the amount of their claims to the archdiocese. Rough estimates have placed the total amount of the claims at more than $100 million.

With the insurance companies balking and with insufficient capital of its own, the archdiocese moved toward filing for bankruptcy earlier this month. The talk of bankruptcy, however, triggered criticism from victims and their lawyers that the archdiocese was trying to threaten them into reducing the amounts of their claims.

No decision on the bankruptcy option is expected until Bishop Richard G. Lennon, newly appointed apostolic administrator, is briefed on the status of the settlement talks, which is expected to happen early this week, according to archdiocesan officials.

Meanwhile, MacLeish said yesterday that while he is willing to postpone Law's deposition this week until January, he will not accede to a request from the archdiocese that he ''stand down'' from releasing more of the church documents detailing abuse that he has obtained under court order.

MacLeish said he had informed church lawyers that he intends to press for records on all priests who were brought before the archdiocese's Review Board on charges of sexually abusing adult women as well as minors.

The Rogers firm, which represents the church in the abuse cases, has tried to limit MacLeish's access to the records to only those that involve abuse of children.

''More than anything else, my clients want the truth to come out, and that only happens with the release of all the records,'' MacLeish said.

Saying he was acting out of compassion for Law, who resigned as Boston archbishop on Friday, MacLeish said he agreed to the Rogers firm's request to put off the two-day deposition of Law.

''I realize that this is an extraordinary time for the cardinal and I do not want to add to it, so I'm recommending that it be delayed until early January,'' MacLeish said. In addition, MacLeish said he agreed to put off for a week the two-day deposition of the Rev. John B. McCormack, Law's former deputy and now bishop of the Manchester, N.H., diocese, scheduled for this week.

Stephen Kurkjian can be reached at kurkjian@globe.com.

This story ran on page A49 of the Boston Globe on 12/15/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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