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Boston Archdiocese Has Tentative Deal In Abuse Cases

Sep 19, 2002 | The Washington Post

The lawyer for 86 alleged victims of sexual abuse by a now-defrocked Boston priest said last night that he had reached a "tentative" agreement with lawyers for the Archdiocese of Boston to settle the cases for $10 million.

The lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, said the tentative settlement was reached yesterday after three weeks of negotiations and would be the subject of a court hearing in Boston today.

Donna M. Morrissey, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, could not immediately be reached for comment last night. Morrissey told the Associated Press that she would not characterize the proposed settlement as final, but added, "We're working towards it and our desire is to settle these cases in a fair and equitable manner."

Twice before, settlements of the cases against John J. Geoghan, who is serving a prison term for fondling a 10-year-old boy, have appeared to have been reached, only to fall through. In May, the archdiocese backed out of a settlement estimated at $15 million to $30 million after its finance council rejected it, saying it would not leave the archdiocese with enough money to settle with other alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests.

Earlier this month, a lawyer for Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law announced a tentative $10 million settlement, which also fell through.

Kim Conlon, a plaintiff's lawyer who this month settled sexual abuse cases with the Diocese of Providence, R.I., said, "What we see here is another unilateral announcement of a tentative settlement. And given the history in Boston, I'm not sure what to make of that."

The tentative settlement announced by Garabedian, if it holds up and is ratified in court today would bring to a close the case that set in motion a crisis that threatened to engulf the Catholic Church in the United States. The crisis led to an emergency meeting of U.S. bishops in Dallas earlier this year to adopt a new, tougher policy to deal with sexual abuse by priests.

Massachusetts Judge Constance M. Sweeney has scheduled a hearing for this morning, Garabedian said. He said the sole remaining issue was the inclusion of a 17-year-old boy as one of the 86 alleged victims.

Because he is still a minor, he is being represented by a court-appointed guardian, who will make a recommendation on whether the boy should be included, Garabedian said. If Sweeney approves inclusion of the youth, "I will give release forms to the archdiocese's lawyers, and they will give me a settlement check," he said.

Under the tentative agreement, Garabedian said, $9.3 million would go to 50 alleged victims who were "touched" by Geoghan in actions ranging from fondling to rape. He said payments to them would range from $100,000 to $300,000, depending on the severity of Geoghan's actions.

Garabedian said 16 parents of alleged victims would receive $10,000 each and 20 people who were not touched by Geoghan but allegedly saw him naked would receive $27,000 each.

"The victims want closure," Garabedian said. "They want to step out of this darkness. It's time to move on."

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