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Spotlight Report

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Therapy guarantee sought in abuse suit

By Anand Vaishnav, Globe Staff, 10/19/2003

Some alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse and their advocates say they plan to protest today outside Holy Cross Cathedral in the South End, because offers of therapy in the proposed settlement between them and the Boston Archdiocese are inadequate.

The group Survivors First asserts that statements promising therapy for abuse victims in the the proposed $85 million legal settlement are not binding.

The settlement states that victims who agree to the settlement "still shall be eligible to participate in the continued therapy and healing program offered by" the archdiocese. But Paul Baier, president of Survivors First, said yesterday that the clause is not ironclad because it refers to a therapy policy in the archdiocese that could be changed in the future.

The archdiocese offers abuse victims one hour of therapy once a week for six months, according to a policy posted on its website. Therapy can continue longer than six months after the victim's therapist submits a diagnosis and treatment plans to the church's Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach.

Baier said the rules should be included in the settlement. "Our concern is that we have seen in the past that church policy changes or gets selectively enforced," said Baier, whose group represents about 200 New England abuse victims and their advocates. "We'd like to see the policy they have now legally binding."

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, said the therapy provisions in the settlement are clear enough and that the church will continue to offer therapy to victims of clergy sexual abuse.

"We're committed to ongoing therapy," Coyne said. "Frankly, this has been an issue that Survivors First has been bringing up over and over and over again. We've constantly responded that we will provide the therapy."

Coyne pointed out that victims' lawyers deemed the therapy language in the settlement adequate or they would not have agreed to it. Claims can be evaluated once 80 percent of about 542 eligible victims agree to the settlement, and the deadline is Oct. 23.

Baier said his organization plans to file a friend-of-the-court brief tomorrow urging Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney, who is presiding over the claims, to amend the settlement to guarantee lifetime reimbursement for therapy and establish an independent review panel to ensure that therapy guidelines are being followed.

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