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Judge To Hear Arguments In Disputed Boston Archdiocese Settlement Over Abuse By Priest

Aug 1, 2002 | AP

Cardinal Bernard Law, who four months ago hailed a financial settlement with clergy sex abuse victims as "an important step in reaching closure," is now being called to court to testify about the collapsed deal.

Attorneys for the Boston Archdiocese and for alleged victims of defrocked priest John Geoghan were scheduled to go to court Thursday morning to ask a judge to decide if the settlement, worth up to dlrs 30 million, is binding.

Law will be called to the witness stand on Friday, plaintiffs' attorney Mitchell Garabedian said.

Attorneys for the 86 alleged victims say the archdiocese committed a "fraud on the court" by backing out of the agreement because it was too expensive. Garabedian said Law and other church leaders indicated to the court and the public that the deal was final.

But attorneys for the archdiocese say in court papers that the cardinal never authorized them to create a binding deal.

"There will be undisputed testimony at trial that no bishop ever signed the settlement agreement, or authorized their attorneys to bind them to it," church lawyers J. Owen Todd and Wilson D. Rogers Jr. wrote in a filing outlining their case.

Garabedian, in a filing outlining his case, said the archdiocese's rationale for backing out of the arrangement — that only three of the 17 defendants signed the settlement — is irrelevant.

"The purpose of having all the parties sign the agreement was to create a polished memorandum of an already binding agreement," he wrote.

Garabedian plans to use Law's public statements to show Judge Constance Sweeney that the archdiocese endorsed the settlement.

Garabedian's court filings include a press statement by Law on March 12. In it, Law said: "This settlement is an important step in reaching closure for those victims who have long endured the damage done to them by John Geoghan."

Even if Sweeney finds that the settlement is binding, it should not be enforced because the archdiocese never put money into an escrow account for victims, church lawyers argued.

Garabedian plans to argue for "judicial estoppel," which essentially says a court must enforce a settlement if it takes other actions under the impression that an agreement was final. The court granted a stay of discovery when the agreement was announced in March.

The archdiocese's Finance Council voted against the settlement later in March, marking the first time it ever went against Law's recommendations.

Law argued in a deposition that the settlement should have been referred to as a "proposed settlement" because it had not been finalized.

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