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MA diocese urged to settle claims

Lawyer calls current offers ‘un-Christian’

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

WORCESTER— Boston lawyer Carmen L. Durso yesterday called on the Diocese of Worcester to bypass the court system and enter into direct negotiations to settle the pending lawsuits alleging clergy sexual abuse.

Lawyers representing the diocese are offering as little as $3,000 or $7,500 in some of these cases, said Mr. Durso, who represents 10 alleged clergy abuse victims in the Worcester diocese. He called the offers “insulting, demeaning and un-Christian.”

Mr. Durso said the diocese is adhering to the state’s charitable immunity cap on settlements while other dioceses, including Boston, have waived or modified it to properly compensate victims.

James Gavin Reardon Jr., lawyer for the diocese, said the lawyers for plaintiffs are “entitled to their opinion” but he said they and their clients chose to file civil suits and they need to be resolved through the legal system.

Mr. Reardon said several suits have been settled and others should be moving to trial by June. He said the cases are moving forward in a professional manner. Some plaintiffs have chosen to settle their suits for the amounts offered while others have not, he added. “It’s their right,” he said.

“I don’t see that as realistic,” Mr. Reardon said of the lawyers’ request that direct negotiations open with the diocese. “These civil suits need to be resolved,” he added.

A graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, Mr. Durso referred to a Catholic doctrine of restorative justice that teaches that a Christian who has wronged another person has a responsibility to make adequate compensation.

Mr. Durso, joined by lawyers Daniel J. Shea of Houston and Nance Lyons of Boston during a press conference, said his research shows Worcester is making the lowest settlement offers of any diocese in the United States and the world.

They were also joined in front of the courthouse’s statue of Moses by a mother of an alleged clergy abuse victim, two alleged clergy abuse victims and representatives of Voice of the Faithful and Worcester Voice. The press conference followed a hearing at which the lawyers reported on the status of their cases to Judge Jeffrey A. Locke, who has been assigned to handle the clergy abuse cases in the Worcester Diocese.

“I want to see my child smile again,” said Eunice White of Worcester, who identified herself as the mother of an alleged victim of the Rev. Raymond P. Messier.

She referred to a statement made by Bishop Robert J. McManus in opposition to homosexual activity that “a man should not be with a man.”

“I will say that a priest should not be with a boy,” Mrs. White said. She said she remains a devout Catholic, despite the alleged abuse of her son. “I have never blamed God or my faith. I blame the people running the church.”

David Lewcon of Uxbridge, alleged victim of the Rev. Thomas Teczar, said he settled his civil suit against the diocese for $110,000 five years ago. “And I thought that was cheap,” he said. Mr. Lewcon said his civil suit dragged on for eight years before being settled.

Mr. Durso said the diocese at one time would waive the charitable immunity cap, which is $20,000, and give a victim more money if he or she was willing to sign a confidentially agreement and remain silent about the abuse.

Phil Saviano, now in the Boston area, accepted a settlement of about $12,000 in his lawsuit against the diocese in the 1990s but would have gotten more if he had agreed to the confidentiality clause, he said. An alleged victim of the Rev. David A. Holley, Mr. Saviano refused to remain silent and took the lesser amount.

Mr. Lewcon said he knows that during the 1990s suits were settled for as high as $350,000 with confidentiality agreements.

“It’s a blot on Worcester,” said Daniel Dick of Worcester, who said the diocese should offer the victims more money. If the diocese will not do it, he suggested that community leaders and elected officials mobilize to bring these civil suits to a just conclusion.

Mr. Dick is a victim support advocate for Worcester Diocese Voice of the Faithful, a group of Catholics that formed throughout the United States in the wake of the clergy abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

Susan Renehan of Southbridge, who is with the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors, said the money being offered will not cover therapy for a year for a victim.

The diocese said in its report to the bishops’ National Review Board that 45 priests were credibly accused of sexual abuse and a total of $2.3 million was paid out in settlements between 1950 and 2003. Most of the money came from insurance.


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests