88 Victims Accept Offer from Boston Archdiocese
Arbitrator will decide awards in abuse cases
By Michael Levenson, Boston Globe Correspondent
|March 10, 2006
The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston said yesterday that all 88 people
who were offered arbitration to settle claims of sexual abuse by
priests had agreed to let an arbitrator decide their compensation.
The archdiocese said the awards are expected to average $75,000,
about half the average amount that it paid to 554 plaintiffs in
a landmark settlement in 2003.
Lawyers for the victims had harshly criticized the archdiocese
when the deal was offered in December and said yesterday their clients
were still unhappy. But the lawyers said their clients had decided
they would rather accept the offer than go through the legal and
emotional ordeal of fighting the archdiocese in court.
''They're all just tired," said Carmen L. Durso, who represents
14 of the victims. ''They all just want it to stop."
The deal is an important step for Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley,
who has made resolving abuse claims a priority.
''From the archdiocese's point of view, this is an important first
step to resolve claims," said Kelly Lynch, a spokeswoman for
the archdiocese. ''We're very pleased with the response the settlement
offers generated and look forward to moving forward."
Under the deal, the 88 victims will receive awards of between $5,000
and $200,000. An arbitrator, Paul A. Finn, of Commonwealth Mediation
and Conciliation, will determine the amount each will get based
on the severity of the abuse, and the plaintiff must accept that
Hearings with Finn and victims are scheduled for later this month
and next month, Lynch said. Under the agreement, arbitrations will
end April 28, and awards will be issued by May 8, with checks delivered
by May 15.
''The archdiocese presented this settlement program in good faith
to compensate those survivors who have been abused by priests of
the archdiocese and to do so in a way that is sensitive to the pastoral
needs of the survivors," the archdiocese said in a statement.
Lawyers for the victims said their clients had accepted the arbitration
offer reluctantly, knowing they would have difficulty taking their
cases to court. Under the statute of limitations, abuse claims must
be brought within three years of the alleged abuse, three years
from when the victim recalls the abuse or links it to psychological
problems, or, in the case of a minor, three years from when the
victim turned 18.
Most of the claims involve victims who allege abuse decades ago,
the lawyers say.
Lawyers also cited another hurdle to successfully suing the archdiocese.
The church is protected by a state law that limits the financial
liability of charitable institutions facing civil lawsuits.
When the victims' lawyers disclosed the proposed settlement in
December, they denounced the offer as ''shocking," ''demeaning,"
and ''gratuitously offensive." At the time, the archdiocese
argued that it could not afford awards as generous as those paid
out in 2003 and that it was trying to be fair and compassionate
to the second wave of alleged victims.
''The dollar amounts, while not as high as in the global settlement,
reflect the present financial capability of the archdiocese and
recognize its deteriorated financial condition since the time of
the last settlement," the archdiocese said in a December statement.
A lawyer who represents 28 victims said yesterday that his clients
had signed the deal ''unenthusiastically."
''The cold reality is the victims want to heal and move on with
their lives, to obtain some sort of closure," said the lawyer,
Mitchell Garabedian. ''And instead of these cases going on for years,
they just want some sort of relief now. They realize that the archdiocese
doesn't care about them. They feel insulted by the settlement, and
they feel revictimized."
Alan L. Cantor, who represents 16 victims, said his clients had
hoped to receive awards equal to those paid in 2003. But the archdiocese,
which has been struggling financially since that $85 million settlement,
made clear during negotiations that it was not willing to offer
that much, he said.
''Their choice was to accept this offer or litigate their case,"
Cantor said of his clients. ''Being frank with the clients about
the difficulty litigating the claims, they felt this process preferable
than going to court and facing the possibility of having their cases
In addition to the cash awards, the archdiocese has agreed to pay
for psychological counseling for victims, as it did in 2003, Lynch
said. Garabedian said some victims would also like to sit down with
O'Malley and attend special Masses to help them heal.
But the archdiocese has not agreed to those steps, Garabedian said.
''It is very important that victims fill the emotional void created
by them being victimized by pedophiles," Garabedian said. ''The
money only is symbolic."
The settlement announced yesterday leaves unresolved an additional
100 claims made by people who say they were sexually abused by priests
or other church workers, and they could face tougher paths in arbitration
or end up in court.
Thirty of those cases will be arbitrated separately, because the
archdiocese says it does not have enough evidence to determine the
credibility of the abuse claims, Lynch said. In those cases, Finn,
the arbitrator, must first decide whether the abuse occurred before
agreeing to award settlements, Lynch said.
The remaining 70 cases involve claims of abuse against lay people
and against priests from Roman Catholic orders, Lynch said. The
archdiocese declined to automatically submit those cases to an arbitrator,
choosing to handle them individually. That means that plaintiffs
will have to choose whether to go to court, pursue individual settlements,
or drop claims. Lynch said no timeline has been set to handle those