Months after Cardinal Bernard F. Law heralded a settlement with victims of alleged sex abuse by clergy, he is being called upon to testify about why the deal collapsed.
Attorneys for the alleged victims of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan went to court Thursday to try to show that the settlement, worth up to $30 million, should be enforced.
Law is expected to testify Friday, a day after plaintiffs’ attorneys used Law’s own words to attempt to show a settlement had been reached, even though the 17 defendants had not signed the document.
In a statement released following the March 11 announcement of a deal, Law said: “This settlement is an important step in reaching closure for these victims who have long endured the damage done to them by John Geoghan.”
The archdiocese pulled out of the deal in May after its Finance Council refused to fund it, saying it was too expensive in light of other pending and anticipated lawsuits over clergy abuse.
The archdiocese is considering filing for bankruptcy if it is forced to pay such large amounts, The Boston Globe reported Friday, citing unnamed church advisers.
The advisers told The Globe that bankruptcy is being considered as a “worst-case scenario.” The archdiocese, facing fewer donations and a weakened economy, has already cut its budget by one-third.
Church leaders say Law’s statement doesn’t prove a deal was finalized. They say the archdiocese should not be bound by the agreement because it required further approval and the signature of each of the defendants.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Mitchell Garabedian put himself on the stand for several hours Thursday. Under questioning by his law partner, he detailed months of discussions that led to the deal.
“The kind of conduct that went on here was a fraud on the court, … or at the least, negligent representation,” Garabedian’s partner, William H. Gordon, told Judge Constance M. Sweeney.
The attorneys also noted that discovery — the evidence gathering before a case goes to trial — was stopped after the court got word of a settlement agreement, an indication that a final deal was reached.
In sometimes prickly exchanges, Law’s personal attorney J. Owen Todd questioned Garabedian on why he would assume such a complicated agreement was final when he had not received signed documents from all the defendants.
Next week, Law is scheduled to be deposed in separate abuse cases. Settlement talks recently broke down with lawyers for alleged victims in those 240 other pending cases.