O'Malley offers $55m settlement
Plaintiff lawyers voice optimism
By Ralph Ranalli and Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 8/9/2003
Moving to end the massive civil litigation surrounding the
worst scandal in the US history of the Roman Catholic Church,
Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley yesterday made a $55 million
settlement offer to 542 people who say they were sexually
abused by clergy members.
Since being named archbishop, O'Malley has consistently pledged
to make settling abuse claims his top priority. The settlement
offer, made nine days after O'Malley was installed as archbishop,
appears to be nearly twice what any diocese or archdiocese
has paid at one time to settle claims of sexual abuse.
Because the $55 million would be divided among so many plaintiffs,
however, lawyers for alleged victims said they are considering
the offer as a starting point for negotiations. Even so, they
said that O'Malley's decisive action, in contrast to more
than a year of frustrating and unproductive settlement talks
that preceded it, was cause for cautious optimism. ''Any negotiation
has to start in a certain place, and this is a good place,''
said Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer for the firm Greenberg
Traurig, which represents about 260 plaintiffs. ''We believe
that there is a lot of good faith being shown by the archdiocese.
There are still a lot of obstacles, but we are finally having
a worthwhile and constructive dialogue.''
Jeffrey Newman, another lawyer for Greenberg Traurig, said
the offer shows that O'Malley is ''absolutely committed to
ending the terror that has been visited on innocent victims''
by abusive clergy.
Newman said that the afternoon was promising enough for lawyers
at the meeting to inform Superior Court Judge Constance M.
Sweeney, who is presiding over the 542 claims, that they are
requesting a suspension of almost all of their litigation
against the archdiocese. The lawyers also said they wanted
to postpone a conference with Sweeney scheduled for later
According to a copy of the offer obtained by the Globe, the
church would agree to give up all its legal defenses -- including
any arguments under state law regarding the statute of limitations
and the church's statutory immunity from large judgments.
Recent state Supreme Judicial Court rulings had appeared
to strengthen the archdiocese's legal position on both issues.
Lawyers involved in the case, however, said that O'Malley
appears to have decided that the harm to the church of dragging
the scandal out in the courts outweighs any benefit from defeating
legally weak or factually questionable claims in court.
According to the settlement offer, victims would be paid
an amount ''based on the type and severity of the abuse and
damage sustained by each claimant.''
The letter also says that the archdiocese will have no role
in dividing up the money -- that will fall to an outside mediator.
The $55 million offer is valid as long as 95 percent of the
victims agree to participate in the settlement.
But even those who opt out of the settlement will be provided
counseling paid for by the archdiocese.
Under customary arrangements, a third or more of the $55
million would be paid to law firms representing the victims.
A spokesman of the archdiocese, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne,
declined comment on the offer yesterday, citing an agreement
with the mediators not to comment.
But a church official, who spoke on condition that he not
be identified, said that the settlement offer is being financed
in part by $15 million raised through the recent sale of church
Much of the additional $40 million is expected to come from
the insurance companies that provided coverage to the church
during many of the years that the alleged abuse took place.
O'Malley is planning to get the money from the insurance companies
either through negotiation or, if necessary, by taking them
to court -- a tactic he used successfully a decade ago when
he settled 101 abuse claims in the early 1990s as bishop of
the Diocese of Fall River, the official said.
The official said the archdiocese has no plans to sell the
16-acre property in Brighton that includes the headquarters
of the archdiocese and the archbishop's residence to fund
the settlement, as many victims and their lawyers have urged.
O'Malley announced yesterday that he has decided to live
in the rectory of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South
End, rather than in the elegant residence on the Brighton
grounds used by his four predecessors. In his weekly column
in The Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper, O'Malley said the
church no longer needs ''all the symbols of the past.''
The Brighton property is also encumbered by a $38 million
first mortgage line of credit given to the archdiocese last
year by the Knights of Columbus to cover significant operating
deficits. To date, the church has already spent about $27
million of that $38 million, the official said.
About 35 lawyers attended yesterday's 90-minute closed-door
session at Le Meridien hotel in Boston, at which two mediators,
Paul Sugarman and Paul A. Finn, outlined the archdiocese's
Finn and Sugarman told the lawyers that the $55 million and
the other details of the offer had been settled on during
a meeting which they attended with O'Malley and Thomas H.
Hannigan, O'Malley's newly hired attorney in the settlement
Lawyers interviewed while leaving the meeting were mostly
''We've got a change in attitude, tone, and methodology that
is very significant,'' said Danvers attorney Alan L. Grenier,
who represents 20 clients suing the archdiocese.
The positive statements yesterday were a marked difference
from previous negotiations, during which plaintiff's lawyers
said virtually no progress was made over more than a year
despite three cooling-off periods, where most of the victims
agreed to suspend active litigation in order the facilitate
Other lawyers were more guarded. Carmen L. Durso, a Boston
lawyer, said he wanted to hear from his clients before making
an official response to the archdiocese's offer. He said the
church's agreement to pay for psychological counseling, regardless
of whether an alleged victim accepted the settlement offer,
would be well received.
''What we hear from the victims so often is that they need
professional and independent counseling,'' Durso said.
The lawyers at the meeting also agreed to form a steering
committee composed of lawyers from five firms, who will collect
the official responses from the other attorneys. That committee
plans to meet next week and then communicate the responses
to the offer.
''I think we still have a few months' worth of negotiation
to get through,'' said Robert Sherman of Greenberg Traurig,
one of the firms represented on the committee. Also on the
committee are Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents
more than 100 victims, Durso, Timothy O'Connell of Charlestown,
and Alan Cantor of Boston.
While the church's offer is technically $55 million, under
the proposed agreement that amount could shrink depending
on how many plaintiffs finally agree to sign on. For every
one that doesn't, the agreement states that the offer would
be reduced by 1/542d of the total, or about $101,000.
That average payout per victim under the proposed offer,
$101,000 per claim, is similar to major settlements in Louisville,
Ky., and Manchester, N.H., over the last two years and slightly
less than the average of $116,000 paid to the victims of the
Rev. John Geoghan by the Archdiocese of Boston last year under
Cardinal Bernard F. Law.
Lawyers involved in the case cautioned, however, that individual
cases vary in seriousness and averages are misleading and
a poor basis for comparison.
Of the 542 claims, for example, approximately 40 were made
by parents who are alleging loss of consortium with victimized
children. In past settlements, such consortium claims have
received relatively small awards.
In all, about 140 priests and brothers are named as alleged
abusers in the claims, some of which date back to the late
1950s. One church employee, former youth worker Christopher
Reardon, is also named as an abuser in a dozen claims.
Walter V. Robinson of the Globe staff contributed to this
This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 8/9/2003.