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Spotlight Report

Lennon promises effort to settle abuse claims

Seeks a break from litigation

By Michael Paulson and Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 12/19/2002


Bishop Richard Lennon speaks to reporters at St. John's Seminary. (Globe Staff Photo / David L. Ryan)

 Text
Excerpts from Lennon's remarks

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In December 2002, Bishop Richard G. Lennon replaced Cardinal Law as leader of the Archdiocese of Boston.  
Coverage of Bishop Lennon

Bishop Richard G. Lennon, the man temporarily in charge of the Archdiocese of Boston, yesterday called for a moratorium on legal skirmishing as he pledged a renewed effort to negotiate a settlement with victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Lawyers for victims welcomed Lennon's overture, saying they detect a ''new tone'' over the course of his first six days as overseer of the local church. Although they did not immediately agree to his request - they plan to go ahead with the deposition of a top church aide today - they said they believe chances of a settlement are improving.

''I will support efforts to arrive at a settlement of claims as soon as possible, which will be fair and equitable for all the victims of clergy sexual abuse,'' Lennon said during a 30-minute session with reporters at St. John's Seminary, where Lennon had been rector since 1999, and where he resides pending the departure of his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who resigned under pressure last Friday.

''Aware that there have been ongoing discussions, this morning I have asked counsel for the archdiocese to request that all parties set aside, except for any activity mandated by the court, the day-to-day litigation activities for a period of time so as to permit all parties to actively pursue the potential for a comprehensive settlement of all cases,'' Lennon said.

In his first news conference, Lennon acknowledged that many are looking for ''a new beginning'' for the church in Boston, which has been riven by scandal during a year of revelations that bishops, including Law, repeatedly left abusive priests in jobs with access to children.

Lennon sounded a strong note of concern for victims, and said his top priorities will be to reach out to survivors of abuse, protect children from harm, and foster unity in a divided church. He said he plans to begin meeting with victims who want to talk with him.

''Respectfully listening to them, I hope to learn the depth of their suffering,'' he said. ''I will extend to each of them my apology on behalf of the church for the abuse which they have suffered.''

During the news conference, which was broadcast live on some local stations, Lennon presented an intense, studious exterior, and appeared to be very carefully choosing his words. Somber and deliberate, almost painstaking in his attention to detail, Lennon displayed none of the charm or charisma that Law often mustered in public settings. He smiled only twice during the news conference. And as reporters asked their questions, Lennon jotted them down before answering.

He also offered restrained and legalistic answers when asked about the role of the lay group Voice of the Faithful, and about his attitude toward gay and lesbian Catholics. He said he was not prepared to lift a ban on new Voice of the Faithful chapters, and said he had ''not analyzed'' whether there is a link between homosexuality and the number of abuse cases involving male victims.

He did not attempt to minimize the scope of the crisis, acknowledging in particular that the archdiocese faces ''fractures within the clergy.''

Given the multiple difficulties the archdiocese faces, Lennon said the archdiocese might yet have to resort to a bankruptcy filing, and he acknowledged that his actions might disappoint some, saying, ''Decisions that I will have to make may not be acclaimed by all.''

He repeatedly fell back on faith as a source of his strength and as an answer to the church's problems.

''Relying on ourselves, we are unable to truly be Church,'' he said. ''It is only with God that this can be accomplished.''

Law was rarely mentioned during the news conference. The cardinal is going on vacation and preparing to move out of Boston, after a final statement to reporters Monday and an emotional leave-taking from church employees Sunday during which the cardinal broke down and cried, according to two people who were there.

To many questions, the new apostolic administrator pleaded ignorance. He said, for instance, that he was unaware of the process the archdiocese uses to investigate complaints against priests, because he has yet to meet with the officials charged with that task.

And, in response to a question after the news conference, he said that when he worked at the chancery as the cardinal's canon law adviser, he knew ''zero ... nothing'' about the extent of sexual abuse by clergy.

''In my first week, I still have much to learn,'' he said. ''Therefore, I will share with you whatever information I can, but there is a limit to the information that I can provide today.''

Lennon, who will serve as administrator until Pope John Paul II appoints a new archbishop of Boston, gave no indication of how long he expects to be here. He said that ''when I received the request'' to take over temporarily for Law, he was not told anything about whether he was expected to settle the legal claims before he is, as he put it, ''replaced with an archdiocesan bishop.''

Left unclear is what instructions he may have received since learning of his appointment. One of his friends, for instance, said that Lennon's decision to move into Law's residence suggests he expects to be in charge for several months, at the least. And his overture to the attorneys for abuse victims suggests he is interested in pushing for a resolution of the claims.

''It would be my hope to do all that I can,'' Lennon said, though he said he has no idea how long he will be in charge.

Even as he called for a moratorium on legal proceedings, he said he had not been briefed by Law about the issue. He also said that he did not know, and had not spoken to Law, about whether the Vatican had ruled on Law's request for permission for the archdiocese to declare bankruptcy.

Lennon's interest in a settlement was welcomed by the victims' attorneys, who in the past have been quite critical of the archdiocese.

''The atmosphere is much more positive than it was last Friday,'' said Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose firm represents more than 250 alleged victims. ''There has been a change in tone by the decision-makers in the archdiocese.''

MacLeish and other lawyers met yesterday with archdiocesan lawyers to discuss a possible moratorium on legal wrangling. MacLeish would not disclose the details of the conversation, but said of Lennon: ''We have to give him the benefit of the doubt. We have an opportunity here to do something positive, without sacrificing the legal needs of our clients.''

The lawyers had already agreed to postpone deposing Law as one sign of goodwill, and the church now appears to be downplaying the possibility of a bankruptcy filing. MacLeish's law firm, in an apparent effort to extend an olive branch, yesterday issued a statement defending Lennon's suitability for the job, saying: ''There are no records which reveal any apparent supervisory wrongdoing by Archbishop Lennon. Further, we have not received any complaints against Archbishop Lennon which would give cause to believe that he has made inappropriate decisions.''

But MacLeish said a deposition of one church official scheduled for today will go forward. And he said his law firm, Greenberg Traurig, will continue to seek church documents and to make public the thousands of pages of documents they already have. The production and public release of documents have been ordered by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney.

One lawyer involved in the negotiations said attorneys for both sides have met secretly twice this week, on Monday night and yesterday. One lawyer briefed on yesterday's meeting said he doubted that MacLeish would agree to a moratorium unless he was convinced that the church was ready to settle the cases with a sufficiently large fund in a short period of time. The lawyers who represent the other 250 or so alleged victims have until tomorrow to submit financial offers to settle their cases with the archdiocese. The lawyers met on Monday to map strategy in dealing with the archdiocese. The church has agreed to provide an answer by mid-January on how much it will pay to settle the claims.

Lennon said he regretted the decision by Catholic Charities of Boston to accept a $56,000 contribution from Voice of the Faithful. Law had barred archdiocesan affiliates from accepting such contributions while he attempted to determine what the church's stance should be toward the lay group.

''While I regret what has happened, I realize that it has happened, and that the monies received will be accepted by Catholic Charities, and they will be used to support the poor, and the many programs that Catholic Charities runs,'' he said.

Stephen Kurkjian and Michael Rezendes of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 12/19/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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