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Spotlight Report

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Most plaintiffs accept $85 million church deal

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 10/21/2003

More than 80 percent of the 552 eligible people have agreed to take part in the historic $85 million out-of-court settlement between the Archdiocese of Boston and alleged victims of sexual abuse by clergy, reaching the participation threshold necessary to make the agreement binding and final, a lawyer for the church has determined.

Thomas H. Hannigan Jr., an attorney for the archdiocese, informed church officials yesterday afternoon that a sufficient number of alleged victims had chosen to accept the settlement, said the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, who was in Rome after attending ceremonies for the beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, released a statement through Coyne yesterday lauding the milestone.

"I hope that in the next few days, even more of the plaintiffs will agree to enter into the process," O'Malley said in the statement. "Now the work of the arbitrators can begin and progress can be made in bringing to conclusion the legal aspects of the cases of a great number of survivors."

O'Malley added, however, that "much work remains to be done."

"The Archdiocese of Boston remains committed to doing everything we can to work to bring about healing, reconciliation, and peace for those who have been abused and for all who have been affected by this terrible scandal," O'Malley said.

Lawyers for alleged victims have predicted for weeks that they would surpass the participation level necessary to end most of the legal wrangling over the Boston clergy sexual abuse scandal, which is considered by many to be the worst scandal in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States.

While the exact total payout is unknown, it is expected to be the largest single payment ever made by a church in the United States to settle claims of sexual abuse. (The $85 million figure is based on 100 percent participation and will be reduced for each claimant who rejects the settlement.)

In recent weeks, many of the 57 attorneys who represent alleged victims covered by the settlement have said they expect the participation rate to be as high as 98 percent. Eligible claimants have until Thursday to decide whether to accept the settlement or continue to fight the church.

Yesterday, lawyer Mitchell Garabedian said that the overwhelmingly positive response from his 120 clients had put the number of signed agreements over the top.

"I am submitting 114 agreements today," Garabedian said. "I have been informed by the mediators that those submissions will put the total of positive responses past 80 percent."

The finalization of the agreement will prompt an intensive, nine-week arbitration process for the claimants.

Each participating alleged victim will take part in a two-hour session to present his or her case to a team of arbitrators from Brockton-based Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation, which, after hearing and comparing all claims, will decide individual damage awards.

Under the terms of the deal, individual claimants will receive an award of between $80,000 and $300,000, depending on the severity of the abuse. Relatives of abuse victims who sued for loss of consortium will receive a flat payment of $20,000 under the deal.

Jeffrey Newman, a lawyer for the Boston firm Greenberg Traurig, which represents more than 260 victims covered by the deal, said the finalization of the settlement agreement does not yet mean his clients are breathing sighs of relief.

"It is still very difficult for these people to dredge up all the terrible things that happened to them, and they are laboring to prepare for the arbitration," Newman said.

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