Boston Archdiocese to sell cardinal's residence
Brighton parcel to help finance abuse settlement
By Ralph Ranalli
December 4, 2003
The Archdiocese of Boston will sell one of its most symbolic
and coveted properties, the ornate cardinal's residence in
Brighton, and 28 surrounding acres to help pay the $85 million
settlement with 540 victims of clergy sexual abuse, a spokesman
for Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley said last night.
The surprise move -- church officials had said for more than
a year that the Brighton property would not be sold -- is
part of a financing plan announced by O'Malley. The plan fulfills
the archbishop's pledge that no parish assets or funds from
the archdiocese's annual appeal and capital campaigns would
be used to pay for the clergy sexual abuse scandal, his spokesman
O'Malley's "message is that he is a man of his word,"
the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne said.
Under the plan, which O'Malley presented to the archdiocesan
Finance Council and two other advisory boards yesterday, the
archdiocese will take out one or more short-term loans to
fund the entire $85 million settlement and then pay back the
lenders with proceeds from the sale of the Brighton property
and from an expected settlement with the church's insurance
The real estate to be sold includes the cardinal's residence
and the eastern half of the archdiocese's 60-acre property
on Commonwealth Avenue. The archdiocese is keeping the other
half of the campus, which is the site of St. John's Seminary,
the chancery, and office buildings.
Coyne said the church has no buyer lined up, although one
suitor is certain to be expansion-hungry Boston College, which
has had problems for decades trying to extend its campus in
the densely built, high-priced area.
One commercial real estate specialist valued the package
at no less than $1 million per acre and possibly more than
$3 million per acre. Those prices would bring the archdiocese
from $30 million to $100 million for the property.
Estimates of a settlement between the church and its insurance
companies, Kemper and Travelers, range from $15 million to
$50 million. O'Malley has said he is prepared to sue the insurers
if negotiations over the coverage do not reach a settlement.
"We are pretty sure we can realize the $85 million total
from both the sale of the property and an insurance settlement,"
Coyne said. He said the finance council and other boards briefed
on the plan by O'Malley do not have to approve the sale.
While church officials hope news of the plan will allay concerns
about archdiocesan finances, there were several unanswered
questions last night, including where the church would borrow
the $85 million in the short term.
Coyne would not comment on the source of the short-term financing,
saying it had not been finalized. He also declined to comment
on how the church would pay the interest on the short-term
loans or detail how much of the proceeds of the real estate
sale would be used to defray a $38 million existing mortgage
on the Brighton property.
Coyne said church leaders hope that the announcement of the
plan reassures ordinary worshipers, as well as larger financial
contributors, that their donations will not be used for the
landmark settlement, which involved cases covering decades.
During that time, officials from the cardinal on down ignored
or systematically covered up reports of abuse by priests.
Coyne also said that plans to sell the real estate were purposely
revealed prior to an announcement, expected within days, of
a major consolidation of parishes in the archdiocese. O'Malley
was very concerned that parishioners affected by consolidation
be given assurance that their local church is not being closed
to fund the abuse settlement.
The ornate cardinal's residence, a four-story mansion atop
a hill overlooking Commonwealth Avenue, had become for many
a symbol of the distance between church leaders and the concerns
of lay people, and was particularly identified with O'Malley's
predecessor, Cardinal Bernard F. Law. As the clergy sex abuse
crisis intensified last year, there were calls for Law to
sell the residence.
After O'Malley was installed as archbishop in July, he decided
to live, not in the residence, but in the rectory at the Cathedral
of the Holy Cross in the South End.
Coyne insisted yesterday that O'Malley intended no symbolism
in the sale.
"He was left with very few assets that could fund the
settlement that were in the central control of the diocese,"
Coyne said. "And since [he was] not living in the residence
at this time, it was considered the most easily transferred
Still, advocates for abuse victims and critics of the church
hierarchy said that sale of the property would be considered
a positive step by ordinary Catholics.
"It shows Archbishop O'Malley's willingness to do what
many people thought was unthinkable: to sell the jewel in
the property assets of the archdiocese," said James Post,
president of Voice of the Faithful, a group that advocates
increased lay involvement in church decisions. "My sense
is that the average person is going to applaud this. There
is very little emotional attachment on the part of average
Catholics to the cardinal's residence."
Ann Hagan Webb, the New England cocoordinator of the group
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the announcement
"a very positive thing." Alleged abuse victims and
their advocates have long advocated the sale of the Brighton
property as both a source of funds for a church settlement
and a symbolic gesture of apology.
"The cardinal's residence is opulent and has always
been a show of deference to a hierarchy that has shown itself
to be less than reputable," Webb said last night. "I
think it is a major signal to laypeople and to victims that
they [church officials] mean to change the way they do things."
Despite the positive reaction to the news of the decision
to sell, the church faces other factors of financial uncertainty
connected with the clergy abuse scandal.
While church officials are still using $85 million as the
amount owed to victims, that number was based on full participation
in the agreement. Because 540 of the 552 eligible claimants
(about 98 percent) signed on to the settlement, the actual
total of the award is just over $83 million.
Lawyers have estimated, however, that if the dozen or so
people who have chosen to continue to fight in court are successful,
the archdiocese could face paying out another $10 million
to $20 million. The archdiocese has also pledged to pay for
therapy once a week for life for each victim who requests
it, a promise that could cost millions over the long term.
The 540 victims participating in the settlement are currently
telling their stories to a team of arbitrators from Commonwealth
Mediation and Conciliation, a Brockton-based dispute resolution
firm. When all claims have been heard, the arbitrators will
determine the amount of each award within a range of $80,000
The archdiocese is obligated to pay the entire $83 million
to the victims and their lawyers before Christmas.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.