The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Strategy on liability lacking, members say

By Stephen Kurkjian and Ross Kerber, Globe Staff, 5/8/2002

The notice informing the 16 members of the Boston Archdiocese's Finance Council about last Friday's meeting was sufficiently brief and to the point, stating: ''We will discuss current concerns relating to the misconduct issue.''

There would be no teleconferencing, so if the members wanted to participate in the discussion of approving the multimillion-dollar agreement to settle claims of sexual abuse by victims of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, they needed to attend in person.

In the end, 13 people walked into the dining room of Cardinal Bernard Law's residence on the grounds of the chancery in Brighton and listened while Law opened the meeting with a strong, straightforward appeal that the agreement be approved.

After nearly two hours of discussion, the members were asked to write down their votes. The only three votes in favor of the agreement were Law's and the two other members of the cloth on the council, Bishop Walter J. Edyvean and Sister Therese Higgins.

Although each had been appointed by Law to serve on the council, all 10 lay people - for the most part businessmen and lawyers - voted against the cardinal. For the first time since Law arrived in Boston in 1984, the Finance Council had rejected a proposal he had put forward.

Five days later, interviews with several council members found them more convinced than ever that despite having to vote against Law, they made the right decision. ''In the end there were just so many pertinent facts that were missing that there was no way we would have been acting responsibly'' by approving Law's request, said one of the council members, Giles E. Mosher Jr., retired president of BayBank N.A.

Among the essential questions that council members interviewed yesterday said neither Law nor Wilson D. Rogers Jr., his lead attorney, could answer were: How many new allegations of sexual abuse were likely to be filed against other priests that the Boston Archdiocese was financially responsible for, and did the archdiocese have enough money to pay for the added cases at the levels that would be set if they approved the settlement with the Geoghan victims?

Beyond the specific questions, said one council member, who asked not to be identified, the members believed that Law lacked an overall strategy under which the church could afford all the future settlements at the same time it was meeting its essential obligations to the poor, aged, and infirm.

Although Chancellor David W. Smith, Law, and Rogers tried to provide answers to specific questions, they just didn't have the needed information to satisfy them, members said. While the Globe had reported that, since the scandal erupted in January, three Boston law firms specializing in representing victims of clergy abuse had been contacted by 500 people who said they had been victimized, Rogers told the council he had only been able to confirm that at least 150 would result in new claims. But he acknowledged many more claims might be filed.

The three council members who were said to have pressed their concerns hardest were John Cunningham, the retired Wang executive who had flown from his retirement home in Florida to attend the meeting; John Kaneb, CEO of H.P. Hood Inc., and Thomas Flatley, the Braintree developer, according to several members.

Why, Flatley asked, did the Geoghan agreement include as much as $75,000 for individuals who had never been physically molested by Geoghan, but instead had supposedly suffered psychological trauma because they had been forced to look at him in the nude? Cunningham wanted to know how many priests had been credibly accused of molesting children in the Boston archdiocese - under 60, he was told.

If there were that many priests with problems, then the archdiocese would be facing many more claims that had yet to be officially filed with the church. If $15 million to $30 million went to the Geoghan victims, where would the money be coming from to pay for the next wave, one member asked. ''Would it be equitable to compensate the first 20 percent of the cases at that level [set by the Geoghan agreement], and not have enough money left to compensate the other people fairly?'' the same member said.

In the end, all members of the council voted to establish a ''global'' fund that would provide money for the victims of all clergy abuse in the Boston Archdiocese. The amounts might be half what was envisioned for the Geoghan victims - $400,000 each for victims of rape - but at least no one would be turned down, the members reasoned.

All members of the committee knew the archdiocese was already in a precarious financial position. In recent years, it had been averaging an annual deficit of between $3 million to $4 million, and had been forced to sell stocks and bonds to balance its books. The only major source of assets remaining was the sizeable real estate holdings - $290 million in the city of Boston alone - that the archdiocese owns in Eastern Massachusetts.

Smith later told reporters that the archdiocese planned to sell no properties in order to raise the estimated $40 million needed to fund the global settlement. Instead, the money would come from taking out mortgages, reserves in the archdiocese's insurance fund - said to be about $7.5 million - and donations made by supportive Catholic business leaders.

One point of agreement among all the members was that the archdiocese would finance a fund that would provide independent psychological treatment for anyone who had a credible claim of abuse, even if the services were needed for a lifetime. Smith, however, denies part of a Globe story on Sunday that, citing an unnamed adviser to Cardinal Law, reported that $5 million will be placed into an account to begin to finance the fund, and that investment advisers Peter Lynch and Mario J. Gabelli would co-manage it.

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 5/8/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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