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Boston Church, 86 Plaintiffs Reach Settlement In Abuse Suit

Sep 20, 2002 | The Washington Post

A judge today approved a $10 million settlement between the Archdiocese of Boston and 86 alleged victims of sexual abuse by defrocked priest and convicted pedophile John J. Geoghan.

The settlement resolves a case that helped spark a crisis in Roman Catholic dioceses worldwide with revelations that church officials knowingly transferred suspected pedophile priests from parish to parish. It also raises concerns among some plaintiffs and others that the amount, one-third of a previously negotiated deal, and far less than other settlements with fewer plaintiffs could set a low standard for future abuse claims.

"This is a bittersweet day," said Mark Keane, an alleged Geoghan victim who apologized for accepting the lower offer.

The Providence Diocese, for example, recently reached a $13.5 million settlement with 36 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse after nearly a decade of litigation. A diocese in Tucson, Ariz., paid $14 million to 10 alleged victims and to six of their parents in January. And two California archdioceses together paid $5.2 million to settle an individual lawsuit last year.

"The archdiocese of Boston is worth more than that, and the victims should have received more," said attorney Lynne M. Cadigan, who negotiated the Tucson settlement. "Unfortunately, it might set a precedent, but when you have such a large class of victims, many want closure."

Under the Boston settlement, $9.3 million will be divided among 50 people who accused Geoghan of molestation, said plaintiffs' attorney Mitchell Garabedian. Payments will range from $100,000 to $300,000, depending on the severity of the abuse. An additional 20 individuals who accused the former priest of exposing himself to them will receive $27,000 each, and 16 parents of alleged abuse victims will receive $10,000 apiece.

Garabedian said his clients agreed to the settlement because they wanted to move on with their lives. "Money is more important to the archdiocese than to these victims," he said. "They know the church just doesn't care."

Attorneys for the archdiocese defended the settlement amount, which will be paid via third-party insurance companies and the archdiocese insurance fund.

Wilson Rogers Jr. said comparisons are unfair because settlements depend on a variety of factors, including state law, the duration of litigation and the severity of the abuse. In Massachusetts, for example, legal awards against nonprofit organizations, including churches, are capped at $20,000.

"I certainly couldn't say [the alleged victims] got off cheaply. They were well-represented," Rogers said. "This is a difficult situation for everybody."

The church issued no formal apology as part of the settlement, but archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey expressed sympathy on behalf of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, and Rogers approached several alleged victims after the proceedings concluded.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney acknowledged the pain of Geoghan's alleged victims, praising them for their effort to avert future abuse.

Sweeney's inclusion today of a 17-year-old victim in the agreement paved the way for the final deal, which was reached after three weeks of negotiations. Twice before, tentative settlements of the cases against Geoghan, who is serving a prison term for fondling a 10-year-old boy, had fallen through.

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