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Abuse victims receive settlement amount

Archdiocese to pay $85m to 541 people

Hundreds of people who were sexually abused by Catholic priests learned yesterday exactly how much money they will receive in an $85 million settlement with the Archdiocese of Boston.

 

The victims' plans for the money, described by one victim as less than a year's pay, include buying Christmas presents, paying children's college bills, and getting help with substance abuse.

One man who received the maximum $300,000 told his lawyer he would buy his first car; another recipient planned to give the cash to a support group for priest abuse victims.

Despite the payments, which should be distributed to attorneys this week, some victims said the money brought no closure on a day many described as a final public milestone in the priest abuse scandal that erupted two years ago with revelations that church officials knowingly reassigned abusive clergy.

"As for me, I'm tired," said John King, 37, a victim from Methuen. "I have no solace in any of this. I'm drained, and I'm going to go and try to do some nice things for my daughter."

The archdiocese agreed in September to pay a record-setting $85 million to 541 people who agreed to settle their claims of sexual abuse. Nineteen arbitrators spent up to two hours with each victim in the last six weeks to determine how much money each should receive. The payments range from a minimum of $80,000 to a maximum of $300,000, based on the severity of the abuse and its lasting psychological effects. Victims' lawyers received the list of payments from arbitrators yesterday morning, and spent the day delivering the news to clients.

Victims and attorneys contacted by the Globe declined to reveal individual settlement amounts, but Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose law firm represented 227 victims in the arbitration, said a "substantial number" received the maximum payment of $300,000 and "many" were close to $200,000. Payments will be sent this week to lawyers, who will distribute them to victims after deducting fees. More than half the recipients represented by the Greenberg Traurig firm plan to place their payments directly into a trust set up for them by the firm, said MacLeish.

Some victims had other plans for the money yesterday. Besides buying some gifts for his daughter, King said he wanted to get away for a while to the California coast. "All I want to do is put my toes in the Pacific Ocean," he said at a press conference yesterday in the office of his lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, who represented 120 victims in the arbitration.

In a statement yesterday, Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley acknowledged that the arbitration was "trying" for victims and called the end of the arbitration process "consoling."

"We understand that no sum of money can adequately compensate them for the suffering they have endured," the statement said. "We hope that the conclusion of this phase of the settlement will provide survivors and their loved ones with some measure of healing and peace."

The church plans to sell off property to help pay the settlement. Meanwhile, more than a dozen alleged victims who did not join the settlement plan to press on with lawsuits against the archdiocese. At the same time, new victims continue to come forward, lawyers said.

William Oberle, a 47-year-old roofer and contractor from Rockland, described his payment as less than a year's pay. He will use some of it to pay for his 22-year-old daughter to go to nursing school, so she can fulfill her dream of becoming a registered nurse like her grandmother.

"If she doesn't get financial aid, her dad's going to be there for her," he said.

Other victims who suffer from hepatitis and AIDS plan to use the money for medical care, while others will seek costly inpatient substance abuse treatment, said MacLeish. One man who is dying plans to travel to Florida to give his nephew a check to help him pay for college, the lawyer said; another man who's never owned a car plans to buy one with part of his $300,000 settlement.

Lawyer Jeffrey Newman said victims were emotional and grateful, especially one victim he reached by phone yesterday.

"He thanked Jesus, and then he started crying," said the lawyer. "He said now he'll be able to go out and buy his daughter a Christmas present."

But victims said the money, while useful, cannot come close to compensating them for their suffering, which will continue. Several expressed mixed emotions about accepting the payments, and allowing a price to be placed on their pain.

"You feel like a prostitute," one victim said. Much more important, they said, are the changes that have taken place as a result of the scandal that may prevent other priests from abusing children.

One victims' group lashed out yesterday at church leaders and lawyers for neglecting victims' long-term mental health in the agreement. Paul Baier, president of Survivors First, said the language in the settlement will not ensure that victims are reimbursed by the church for sessions with licensed therapists. He also criticized the agreement for failing to establish a secular office, independent from the church, where victims can go to get money for counseling. "Just because these people get a cash settlement, it doesn't mean their mental health is returned," he said.

During her two-hour arbitration session, Alexa MacPherson, 28, described the anorexia, depression, and anxiety that followed her years of abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest in Dorchester, who also abused two of her brothers. The abuse began when she was 3 years old and stopped when she was 9, after her father caught the priest trying to rape her on the living-room couch, she said.

A double major in psychology and biology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston who expects to graduate next spring with honors, MacPherson said her payment was less than she expected -- less than $250,000. "But even if it was $300,000, so what? How much does that average out to for every time he touched me?"

"I thought I would feel more lighthearted today, like something had been lifted," she said. "I still feel weighted down."

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