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Negotiations resume in clergy sex abuse cases

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 9/9/2003

Two days after settlement talks were abruptly canceled amid acrimony among the lawyers representing alleged victims of clergy sex abuse, the attorneys resumed negotiations with lawyers for the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and they have held secret talks the past two nights in a drive to reach a settlement, a lawyer familiar with the negotiations said yesterday.

Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley attended Sunday night's session at an undisclosed location, the lawyer said.

The extent of progress toward a settlement was not known, and the two sides kept details of the negotiations secret.

Yesterday, the Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, declined to comment on the talks, except to say that they had been expected to resume this week. Robert Sherman -- a lawyer for the Boston firm Greenberg Traurig, which represents more than 260 people who have made sexual abuse claims against the archdiocese -- declined to comment.

The other members of the steering committee of lawyers representing alleged abuse victims -- Mitchell Garabedian, Carmen Durso, Timothy O'Connell, and Alan Cantor -- could not be reached for comment.

The committee met with the lead attorney for the archdiocese, Paul H. Hannigan Jr., and with mediator Paul A. Finn of Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation, a Brockton firm. Neither could be reached for comment.

The secret sessions began Sunday night, after the abrupt cancellation of a special Saturday negotiating session that was supposed to have featured direct talks involving O'Malley and 10 alleged abuse victims.

O'Malley was supposed to hear the victims' stories and to lead a push to bring the talks to a successful conclusion.

But the session was canceled Friday after some lawyers for victims said that leaks threatened to create a "media circus" that would sabotage the effort to bridge a money gap of at least $25 million.

The Globe reported two weeks ago that O'Malley had raised the church's initial offer from $55 million to $65 million. That put the sides at least $25 million apart. A week earlier, a steering committee of lawyers representing the 550 plaintiffs told the archdiocese that they believed the claims were worth between $90 million and $120 million.

People involved in the talks have said that the plaintiffs' lawyers reached their figures by analyzing each of the more than 500 claims and coming up with a range of compensation for each victim based on the abuse each suffered and amounts awarded in similar cases, including last year's $10 million settlement by the archdiocese with 86 victims of the Rev. John J. Geoghan.

An agreement would be the culmination of weeks of intensive negotiations that began in early July, after O'Malley was installed as archbishop and vowed to bring a speedy resolution to the legal claims.

One of his first acts as archbishop was to appoint Hannigan to represent the church in settlement negotiations. Hannigan helped O'Malley settle abuse claims filed against the Diocese of Fall River in the early 1990s when O'Malley headed that diocese. Nine days later, on Aug. 8, O'Malley made the church's initial $55 million offer.

A church official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, said at the time of O'Malley's initial offer that the settlement was being financed in part with $15 million raised through the recent sale of church property.

Much of the additional $40 million was expected to come from the insurance companies that provided coverage to the archdiocese during many of the years that the alleged abuse took place.

O'Malley planned to get the money from the insurance companies either through negotiation or, if necessary, by taking them to court, a tactic he used successfully when he settled the Fall River abuse claims, the official said.

Of the 550 claims, approximately 200 are being made by people who say they were raped or sodomized by their abuser. Those plaintiffs would probably receive the largest awards.

Another 300 claims were made by people who say they were fondled, while approximately 40 were made by parents who are alleging loss of consortium with victimized children.

About 140 priests and brothers and one lay church employee are named as alleged abusers in the claims, some of which date from the late 1950s.


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