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200 File New Claims Against Archdiocese

Jan 4, 2006 | AP

When the clergy sex abuse scandal erupted here four years ago, Bill Garrity was not among the more than 500 people who sued the archdiocese and settled claims in 2003.

However, Garrity who said he was abused by a parish priest as a 12-year-old altar boy is among a group of about 200 alleged victims with new claims against the archdiocese.
Lawyers representing 172 alleged victims met Tuesday to discuss a counter offer for the archdiocese, which has offered $7.5 million to about 100 of the latest plaintiffs.

"I didn't want to be dragged through what everybody else was dragged through," said Garrity, now 46, of the first round of lawsuits. "I didn't want to be standing out in front of a church or a rectory. I just hoped it would go away, and it didn't."

Lawyers for the current plaintiffs have denounced the archdiocese's $7.5 million offer as "demeaning" and say it treats them differently than the victims who participated in an $85 million global settlement in September 2003.

The archdiocese's proposal would give alleged victims settlements ranging from $5,000 to $200,000, with $75,000 as the average. In 2003, the 554 plaintiffs received settlements ranging from $80,000 to $300,000 each, with an average of about $155,000.

The archdiocese says its financial condition has deteriorated since the 2003 settlement and it cannot afford to pay the new round of plaintiffs as much.

But the new plaintiffs say they do not believe the archdiocese's claims of financial hardship and say it is attempting to capitalize on the weariness over the scandal in the hope that the alleged victims will accept lesser settlements.

"It is grossly inadequate and it diminishes the abuse that the people suffered," said Tony Cotillo, who said he was raped by a priest in a confessional in St. Joseph's Parish in Holbrook when he was 9.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say they are similar in many ways to the victims who settled their lawsuits in 2003. Most say they were molested by priests decades ago, but did not come forward because they were afraid, traumatized or emotionally damaged.

"This group is no different than the earlier group, in terms of age, in terms of emotional damage, in terms of character," said attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents 55 plaintiffs.

An attorney who represents 33 of the new claimants, said they are generally more "timid" than the earlier plaintiffs, some of whom were emboldened by their sheer numbers and the widespread criticism that the church received after they went public with their stories of abuse.

"These are people who did not want to come forward," the attorney said of the new claimants.

The alleged victims are also upset that the archdiocese is requiring some of them to take part in an arbitration process where they would be cross-examined by church attorneys.

Thomas Hannigan Jr., an attorney for the archdiocese, said some plaintiffs will be subject to "limited" cross-examination.

"We're not saying (their claims) don't have merit, but we don't have a sufficient basis to make that conclusion yet," Hannigan said in an interview last week.

But attorneys for the plaintiffs say the archdiocese is treating them unfairly.

"They've decided they don't believe that a lot of these cases are real, not having any basis for that belief. They've simply decided they just think of these people as liars," Durso said.

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