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Plaintiffs eye offer with anger, relief

Several say they want day in court

By Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 8/9/2003

 Related stories
O'Malley offers $55m settlement
Approach echoes Fall River case
Grown men, attacked as boys by priests they once trusted and revered, studied the price tag the church placed on their abuse yesterday and struggled to assess the proper compensation for the lost innocence and a betrayal that, they said, has shadowed their lives as adults.

The Archdiocese of Boston's $55 million offer to settle more than 500 complaints of clergy sexual abuse was greeted with reflection and relief, but also with anger by some plaintiffs who said no amount of money can make them whole.

''You have to live with the scars that you have received and whole lives that have been badly damaged,'' said Bernie McDaid, who says he was abused by the Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham in Salem 40 years ago. ''What is the money value of that?''

William Oberle, an alleged victim of the Rev. Paul Mahan, who was defrocked in 1998, figured that the church's offer would amount to an average payment of about $70,000 per victim after legal fees are deducted.

''That's a blasphemy as far as I'm concerned,'' Oberle said. ''I don't want to settle. I want my day in court.''

Several victims said they wanted to consult with their lawyers before deciding whether to embrace the church's offer or to renounce it. The leader of a national victims' group said each plaintiff will have to make a deeply personal decision.

''Survivors are just like any other group of people and their response to this will be quite diverse,'' said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. ''I only hope that, in the decision-making, that survivors will be heard and continue to support one another regardless of the outcome.''

The archdiocese's offer yesterday remains valid only if 95 percent of those making claims against the church accept it within 30 days after the church and the lawyers for the alleged victims sign an agreement.

Even some victims who are eager to put the case behind them said that will be a difficult threshold to meet.

''I don't think you're going to see that,'' said David Lyko of Dracut, an alleged victim of Birmingham. ''There's a lot of guys in the group who are not looking for the money. They just want to get to court.''

Lyko, who said he intends to be in the Lowell church today where Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley plans to say Mass, wants to discuss the church's offer with his lawyer.

''There's no amount of money that can cover what was done to us,'' Lyko said. ''But I want to settle. I don't want to live with this for the next seven years.''

Lyko and another alleged Birmingham victim, Gary Bergeron of Lowell, said the speed with which O'Malley has moved on the legal cases represents a refreshing change from the church's courtroom stance under Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

''I've seen four or five steps that O'Malley has taken over the last 10 days which leads me to believe that he is sincere,'' said Bergeron. ''He's done more in the last 10 days than what has occurred in the last year and a half.''

The church's offer includes a promise to continue to provide counseling and pastoral programs, which several victims said must be part of any deal.

''You can't just hand these men and women a check and say, `We've done our part. Go live your lives.' There's a much bigger responsibility for the church,'' Bergeron said.

Oberle, in flatly rejecting the church's offer, said he thinks the church should pay each plaintiff $500,000 to $1 million.

''My lawyer promised me six figures when all this started,'' said Oberle. ''We've been beaten to death by this whole thing. They've got to pay more than that.''

Rodney Ford, whose son Gregory was allegedly molested in Newton by the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, said he, too, will reject the settlement offer if it allows a mediator to decide how to split up the $55 million among victims. The church's proposal yesterday provides that the money be allocated by the mediators and victims' lawyers, working together.

''This family is not going to be part of any talks as a group,'' Ford said. ''They're going to handle the Ford case separately and independently or we're going to trial.''

Ford, who said his 26-year-old son's life has been unalterably damaged by Shanley's assaults, said he will press for a speedy trial during court hearings this month.

''I had heard the settlement was going to take close to $150 million,'' he said. ''If they're only coming up with $55 million, they're not serious about it.''

Clohessy said Boston's victims will examine what victims elsewhere have received in settlements. ''But in large measure it's irrelevant to people who have suffered so much for so long. What matters is that they feel some peace.''

Thomas Farragher can be reached at farragher@globe.com

This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on 8/9/2003.
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