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Judge approves $10 million settlement in Geoghan civil lawsuits
By Denise Lavoie, Associated Press, 09/19/02
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney approved a 17-year-old victim's petition to participate in the settlement, clearing the way for the final deal. All of the lawsuits were dropped as part of the settlement agreement.
Sweeney addressed victims of Geoghan who appeared in court Thursday, saying she wanted to acknowledge their suffering and make clear the settlement means the civil court believes that, "Mr. Geoghan did, in fact, do what you said he did to you."
"You are to be admired for the fact that you stayed the course, you got to this point," Sweeney said. "I hope you are able to recognize in yourselves not just the hurt that was done to you, but your own resilience, your courage."
It was Geoghan's case that sparked the sexual abuse scandal engulfing the nation's Roman Catholic Church. Court documents released in January showed that for years, church officials shuffled Geoghan from parish to parish despite knowing of abuse allegations against him.
In March, the archdiocese announced a settlement with Geoghan's victims worth up to $30 million, but backed out of that deal in May, saying it could not afford the deal as hundreds of other lawsuits were being filed against other priests.
Several victims said they were not satisfied with the new settlement, but agreed to the deal because they feared the litigation would drag on for years.
The mother of one of Geoghan's victims confronted archdiocese attorney Wilson Rogers Jr. as he left the courtroom.
Nancy Greenlaw, whose son, John Brian Greenlaw, died of a drug overdose last year at age 33, held a large framed photograph of her son at 7, the age when Geoghan began sexually abusing him, she said.
"This is my son," she told Rogers. "He passed away last year. I want everybody to remember his face. I want everyone to know the church and its actions killed my Brian."
Rogers responded, "I'm sorry. I'm terribly sorry."
Greenlaw said she believes her son committed suicide after years of suffering over his abuse by Geoghan.
"The money doesn't mean a thing to me. It's disgusting what they allowed to happen," she said.
Mark Keane, another Geoghan victim, said the settlement won't even pay for the therapy he and other victims will need for the rest of their lives.
He said the victims agreed to the lower settlement because they are "tired and emotionally spent."
Cardinal Bernard Law released a statement saying he was grateful a fair settlement could be reached and more litigation avoided.
"His Eminence continues to pray for survivors of sexual abuse and he hopes that for those who have suffered the effects of such sinful and evil acts, that today's settlement will be a significant moment in their healing process," said the statement, which was read by archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Morrissey.
According to the terms of the deal, the bulk of the settlement -- $9.3 million -- will be divided among 50 people who say they were molested by Geoghan.
Another 20 people who say Geoghan exposed himself to them will split $540,000. Sixteen parents of children who say they were abused by Geoghan will divide $160,000.
The deal could provide a framework for settlements in dozens of other lawsuits filed against priests.
"It's hard to imagine that it's not going to be viewed as a kind of measuring stick," said attorney Laurence Hardoon, a Boston attorney who represents about a dozen alleged clergy abuse victims.
"I think the church was overwhelmed with the number of claims, so I anticipate maybe at this point, with this kind of resolution, the church can turn its attention to some of the cases which have really been suspended in many ways to wait to see what happened in the Geoghan cases," he said.
The $10 million deal is substantially smaller than settlements in some other high-profile clergy sexual abuse cases in Dallas, Tucson, Ariz., and other cities across the country. Just last week, the Diocese of Providence agreed to pay $13.5 million to settle lawsuits filed by 36 people who said they were sexually abused by 10 priests and one nun in various parishes over many years.
But attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represented the Geoghan victims, said they decided to settle because they wanted to avoid years of court battles.
"These victims want to move on with their lives," Garabedian said.
"Money is more important to the archdiocese than it is to these victims."
Morrissey said the $10 million was paid for entirely through third-party insurance companies and the archdiocese's insurance programs. She said no money from Mass collections or church fund-raising campaigns was used.
Geoghan is currently serving a six-year prison sentence following his conviction in January of groping a 10-year-old boy in a swimming pool in 1991.