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Boston Archdiocese Seeks Suits' Dismissal

Dec 23, 2002 | AP

The Boston Archdiocese asked a judge on Monday to dismiss all priest sexual abuse lawsuits against on First Amendment grounds, saying the motion could speed settlements with clergy sex abuse victims.

Archdiocese officials also have selected church property that could be sold to settle abuse claims judgments.

The motion filed Monday argued that the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion precludes state action in the abuse scandal.

Bishop Richard G. Lennon, apostolic administrator of the archdiocese, had said the motion was intended to satisfy insurance companies' requirements that the church do everything it can in its own defense before they would contribute to the settlement of claims.

"Failure to do this could very well result in the insurance companies walking away from us, saying that we have not exercised all of our avenues of defense," Lennon had said Sunday.

If the motion is upheld by Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney, more than 400 claims that could cost the church millions of dollars would be thrown out. Sweeney set Monday as the deadline for filing the motion.

Meanwhile, Lennon said he was hopeful the church could settle the lawsuits by selling some of its real estate holdings and by using insurance money.

Lennon said he has selected church properties for sale, and has directed church officials to put them on the market as soon as possible. However he has not said which properties will be sold.

A law firm advising the archdiocese has concluded that the church has at least $90 million available for a settlement, most of it through coverage provided by insurance companies.

Lawyers for victims said the legal motion to get the suits rejected was expected and that they expect it will be rejected.

Lennon, in his first news conference last week, said he backs efforts to settle lawsuits accusing church leaders of turning a blind eye to claims that priests molested children.

Still, Lennon would not rule out sending the archdiocese into bankruptcy as the church struggles to find a way to resolve the lawsuits. Before his resignation Dec. 13, Cardinal Bernard F. Law also considered the option.

The Boston Archdiocese isn't the only one struggling with the financial implications of the scandal. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced over the weekend that it has scrapped plans for an $18 million Catholic Heritage Center, citing the abuse crisis, a shaky economy and competition from Sept. 11 charities.

"It would have been insensitive and inappropriate to ask Catholics to contribute to something that is a tribute to the Catholic faith at a time when trust in the church has been shaken," archdiocese spokeswoman Catherine Rossi said.

The project, in the works for nearly two years, would have been the largest archdiocesan museum of its kind. Private donors had pledged more than $6.4 million.

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