The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Lawyers for Geoghan accusers, church spar over deal

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 8/2/2002

A lawyer for dozens of alleged sexual abuse victims testified in court yesterday that he was repeatedly assured by lawyers for the Archdiocese of Boston that the church had plenty of money to pay for a settlement: $50 million from a combination of insurance money, a few private donors, and a bank line of credit.

On the first day of a hearing to determine whether the $15 million to $30 million settlement agreement should be enforced, lawyers for both sides quizzed each other, sometimes testily. Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer for 86 alleged victims of former priest John J. Geoghan, was the only witness whose testimony was completed.

When he finished testifying, he began questioning the lead lawyer who negotiated the settlement agreement for church officials, Wilson D. Rogers Jr.

But the most dramatic moments in the hearing are likely to come this morning, when Cardinal Bernard F. Law becomes the first US cardinal to publicly testify in court about matters arising from his oversight of his own archdiocese.

The lawyers on both sides agree generally about the details - documented in a long paper trail that includes the settlement agreement and transcripts of court hearings - of what transpired as the March agreement was negotiated. It was abandoned by the archdiocese in May.

The lawyers agree that all 86 alleged victims signed the agreement, but only three priests out of 16 defendants signed.

But the lawyers are miles apart on what it all means. While the alleged victims and their lawyers see the settlement agreement as a contract that the church was obliged to fulfill, church officials and their lawyers view it as a work in progress that was never completed.

''These are not the type of lawsuits that are settled by a handshake or a gentleman's agreement,'' J. Owen Todd, Law's attorney, said in his opening statement. ''If there was ever an agreement that needed to be approved by each and every party ... it was this.''

Todd also said that the church had trouble meeting the ''enormous financial obligations'' of the settlement agreement. There was a ''disappointing reaction'' from the archdiocese's insurance carriers, he said, and the chancellor didn't obtain an expected ''large loan.''

Although there were no dramatic revelations in yesterday's testimony, the exchanges between the lawyers sometimes turned acrimonious. Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney chastised them to stop their ''banter back and forth,'' and later refused Todd's request to step in.

''I'll tell you, when you're trying to taunt someone, I'm not going to help with the taunting,'' she told him.

Garabedian testified that after the lawyers had agreed on the negotiated settlement, at 10 p.m. on March 11, he and Rogers congratulated each other, and ''said it was a done deal.'' Then Rogers suggested that the lawyers and their clients hold a joint news conference to announce the settlement.

''I informed him, with all due respect, that my clients really didn't want to be in the same room with his clients,'' Garabedian testified yesterday.

Garabedian said in court yesterday that lawyers for the archdiocese told him several times that there was enough money to cover the settlement agreement. The lawyers told him, he said, that there was at least $50 million available: the insurance companies would pay $21 million, two or three private donors had agreed to put up $9 million, and the archdiocese had a $20 million line of credit at Fleet Bank.

''That's what I was assured of repeatedly,'' he said.

When archdiocese officials announced in May that they were backing away from the settlement agreement, they blamed the archdiocesan finance council for voting down the money. But Garabedian testified yesterday that Rogers had assured him that the finance council - which had never before rejected a request from Law - was only a formality.

''He had told me twice within two weeks ... that the finance council was only advisory in form, and not to worry about the finance council,'' Garabedian said. ''... It was just a procedure they had to go through.''

Both Garabedian and Rogers testified that the settlement would cost the church between $15 million and $30 million. The plaintiffs would be divided into three categories, Garabedian said in court: 16 people who were parents of children allegedly abused by Geoghan; 20 people who had allegedly seen Geoghan expose himself; and 50 people who were allegedly molested by Geoghan.

Each parent would get $10,000. The people who had allegedly seen Geoghan exposed but were not touched by him - the lawyers called these people the ''visualization'' plaintiffs - would each get $75,000.

The remaining 50 alleged victims who say they were molested by Geoghan would go before two arbitrators who would decide how much money they would get. The arbitrators would have a set range of money they could award, depending on the alleged offense.

Alleged rape victims, for instance, could get between $500,000 and $938,500, depending on the arbitrators' decision.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at

This story ran on page A12 of the Boston Globe on 8/2/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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