The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Lawyers, church say talks are at impasse

By Stephen Kurkjian and Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 7/26/2001

A six-week effort between the Boston Archdiocese and three Boston law firms to settle some 200 claims of clergy sexual abuse ended without success yesterday, lawyers for the victims and the archdiocese said.

The two sides had agreed on June 19 to declare a 30-day truce in pursuing the claims through the courts and added a two-week extension earlier this month. Although the extension does not officially end until next Friday, lawyers for the victims said longstanding obstacles for a resolution of the claims remained and they needed to resume legal preparation for their cases as soon as possible.

The cases will now proceed in court, with the first step being the resumption of the deposition of Cardinal Bernard F. Law on Aug. 5.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said following the statements of the victims' lawyers that the church expected the talks toward reaching a settlement to continue in the coming weeks even as the case proceeds through the courts. ''There is nothing to say that the two processes cannot go on at the same time,'' Coyne said.

While lawyers for both sides said their discussions had been productive and they had narrowed their differences, they said that a recent order by Superior Judge Constance M. Sweeney that the lawsuits be pushed forward did not leave enough time to fashion a settlement.

''We've had long, difficult talks and made substantial progress in understanding one another's positions,'' said Jeffrey A. Newman, who led the victims' lawyers in the talks. ''But now we have to move forward with the litigation.''

Newman said that the victims' lawyers had presented a ''comprehensive proposal'' to the archdiocese for settling the cases in recent days but that the church had been unable to provide a definitive response. The problem, Newman said, was that the insurance companies whose liability policies have covered the archdiocese and priests on sexual abuse claims were not able to say quickly enough how many of the claims they would honor.

''The insurance companies move at a far slower pace than the courts required us to move,'' Newman said.

The insurers must assume a large portion of the millions of dollars in settlement costs, Newman said. Having viewed confidential financial records of the archdiocese's during the talks, Newman said, he is convinced that the church is unable to bear ''any heavy burden'' from the settlement.

J. Owen Todd, one of the archdiocese's lawyers, said he believed that the settlement talks would continue in the coming weeks. ''Although one of the proposals we were working on could not be implemented, it does not mean that we cannot try other avenues,'' Todd said.

But with the settlement talks unsuccessful, Roderick MacLeish of the Boston law firm Greenberg Traurig, which represents most of the alleged victims, filed a motion in Middlesex Superior Court yesterday that reflected a full resumption of the legal battle. MacLeish's motion, filed in his civil suit against retired priest Paul R. Shanley for allegedly abusing three youths at a Newton church, asks Sweeney to direct the archdiocese to provide him with its personnel records on 73 priests in the Boston area who are accused of abusing minors, going back to the 1960s.

The records are needed to show that a pattern of clergy abuse had long been tolerated in the Boston Archdiocese, MacLeish said. Following the eruption of the clergy abuse scandal in January, the archdiocese turned over the names of about 80 priests to local district attorneys, but the statute of limitations for bringing charges in most of those claims of abuse has passed, prosecutors said.

In an interview, MacLeish said that he would push to complete depositions of Law and several of his former top deputies during the month of August, including bishops John McCormack of Manchester, N.H., Robert J. Banks of Green Bay, Wisc., and Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Carmen L. Durso, a lawyer who represents several of the alleged victims, said he believed it is an overstatement to say the settlement talks collapsed.

''That implies that we were close to a settlement, and we were not,'' said Durso. ''Getting it done in 30 days, during the moratorium period, just was not realistic. I don't think we'll stop talking. We're not going back to war. The judge wants us to move things forward. There just wasn't enough time.'' Durso said that he had withheld filing some claims during the moratorium, but that he will now file them.

The father of one victim said he was upset to hear that the talks had broken off. ''It is just very disappointing,'' said Rodney Ford of Newton, whose son, Gregory, alleges he was sexually molested as a youth by Shanley. ''You would think the church would realize they have done great harm to people and the way to settle this is by not going to trial.''

Shanley, 71, who has been sued by Ford and two others, pleaded not guilty this month to charges that he raped four boys between 1979 and 1989, while he was assigned to the St. John the Evangelist Parish in Newton.

Meanwhile yesterday, Sweeney prepared for a trial that will begin Wednesday on whether the archdiocese must honor a tentative settlement agreement reached in March with 86 alleged victims of former priest and convicted molester John J. Geoghan. The church backed away from the agreement in May, after the archdiocesan finance council rejected the settlement, saying it would not leave enough money for other alleged abuse victims.

At a hearing yesterday, Sweeney said she has never relied on her memory of a closed-door conference in April in which she and lawyers discussed the settlement agreement. Church lawyers had asked Sweeney to ignore her memory of the hearing, and if she could not, they argued, she should recuse herself. Sweeney yesterday did not address the question of recusal because she told the lawyers she would not rely on her memory.

Kevin Cullen and Matt Carroll of the Globe Staff contributed to this article.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/26/2001.
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