February 28, 2004
January 9, 2004
ONEY IS inadequate compensation for the harm of sexual abuse, but the $55 million offer by the Archdiocese of Boston is a major step toward a resolution of the scandal. Sean P. O'Malley, installed as archbishop July 30, is to be commended for his speedy action to satisfy the claims of 542 people who say they were victimized by priests and other archdiocesan employees.
The $55 million is the largest settlement ever offered by a Catholic diocese. On a per capita basis, however, it would be significantly less than the settlement reached between 36 plaintiffs and the Providence diocese last year or the agreement that the Society of Jesus reached with 15 men who were abused by two Jesuits at Boston College High School. The offer in Boston will have to be increased to reflect the longterm cover-up by archdiocesan officials, which allowed abusive priests to prey on young people and discouraged the archdiocese from offering treatment to victims.
A financial settlement is only one part of the healing process. O'Malley was wise to meet with victims Saturday night after celebrating Mass at St. Michael's in Lowell, where the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham scarred the lives of several young parishioners. Victims of abuse and members of the parishes where it occurred need an affirmation of their anguish from the archbishop and a commitment that the church will not allow this evil to manifest itself again. O'Malley should keep talking to victims and visiting affected parishes.
A financial settlement is essential, however, to remove the scandal from the courts and begin the recovery process in the pastoral setting of the parishes. The quick announcement of the $55 million offer validates O'Malley's decision to appoint Thomas H. Hannigan Jr. as his lead counsel. In 1992, just after O'Malley became bishop of Fall River, Hannigan quickly negotiated a settlement of the abuse cases involving James Porter.
Besides the amount of the settlement, Hannigan needs to reexamine a provision that would make the offer contingent on acceptance by 95 percent of the plaintiffs. Victims of abuse are understandably wary of being ordered about by the archdiocese. An offer without this condition might result in greater acceptance of the settlement.
O'Malley said last week that he was moving out of the archbishop's residence in Brighton to the rectory of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End. The Brighton house sits in a large ecclesiastical complex, physically and psychologically remote from the rest of the city. The cathedral is an integral part of a gentrifying but diverse urban neighborhood. A church leader who lives among the people is more likely to resolve the grievances of those who have been hurt and to ensure that the same pain is not inflicted on others.