The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Judge accepts Geoghan settlement

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 9/20/2002

With praise for the victims of a pedophile priest and for his supervisors in the Boston archdiocese, a superior court judge yesterday accepted a $10 million settlement of 84 lawsuits against defrocked priest John J. Geoghan and church officials, ending one of the most highly publicized cases of clergy sexual abuse on record and setting the stage for negotiations over hundreds of additional claims against Cardinal Bernard F. Law and the archdiocese.

As a half-dozen Geoghan victims looked on, Judge Constance M. Sweeney congratulated them for their resiliency and courage and credited them with increasing awareness of child sexual abuse and saving other children from suffering a similar fate. ''You made a fundamental difference in the way many people - including people who are secular authorities and religious authorities - look at the way institutions have to care for those they are bound to protect,'' Sweeney said.

Sweeney also praised the ''supervisory defendants'' in the case - the 16 church officials who were sued - for their willingness to forge a settlement. ''With respect to the supervisory defendants, I know each and every one of them has compromised their strongly held position that they took every reasonable step within the purview of their offices and had no intent or knowledge that harm was being caused by Mr. Geoghan,'' Sweeney said.

Donna M. Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said the $10 million award to victims was covered by third party insurance companies and an archdiocesan insurance fund, and that neither operating funds nor the proceeds of property sales were used. ''Not one cent of the settlement came from the Cardinal's Appeal, the capital campaign, or Sunday collections,'' Morrissey said, referring to the three principal means used by the church and local parishes to raise money.

Because of yesterday's agreement, Sweeney said she would issue no ruling on whether church officials breached a contract with the victims when they reneged on an earlier, higher settlement offer. The agreement formally accepted yesterday contained no provision to allow Geoghan's victims to describe the abuse they suffered in open court, a request made by some after the church retracted its initial settlement offer, and did not require church officials to apologize for any specific actions.

But after yesterday's hearing Morrissey issued a general apology to victims on behalf of Law, saying the cardinal hopes the settlement marks ''a significant moment in the healing process.'' Morrissey also said, ''Cardinal Law's sorrow expressed for people experiencing such pain and suffering due to sexual abuse is only compounded when such acts involve betrayal of trust by a priest. For that he apologizes from the depths of his heart.''

But Geoghan's victims said they took much greater solace from Sweeney's remarks, in which she acknowledged their persistence through years of legal proceedings. Sweeney also assured the victims that because Geoghan defaulted on the accusations leveled at him in the 84 lawsuits resolved yesterday, the court considers the allegations true.

''There is no question from the point of view of the civil side that Mr. Geoghan either raped or assaulted you or members of your family,'' Sweeney said. ''Mr. Geoghan did in fact do what you said he did to you.''

''Those words were honest words. That was exactly what I wanted to hear,'' said Patrick McSorley after the hearing. McSorley, a 28-year-old Hyde Park man who was molested by Geoghan when he was about 12 years old, attended many court proceedings. ''We were sitting there, we were noticed by her, and that was very comforting,'' he said.

Geoghan is serving six years of a nine- to 10-year prison sentence for groping a boy in a swimming pool and is facing additional child-rape charges.

Although yesterday's agreement marks a significant turning point in the clergy sexual abuse scandal that erupted in January, the archdiocese will have to settle or defend in court an estimated 300 additional claims, more than a dozen of which have been lodged by alleged Geoghan victims not covered by yesterday's settlement.

Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer for the victims, said he will be ''pressing many more cases of sexual abuse by clergy involving priests in the Boston archdiocese,'' about 16 of which are claims made by alleged Geoghan victims.

But Garabedian also indicated that any settlement negotiations are likely to be highly contentious. Talks between lawyers for the church and Garabedian took a bitter turn in May when the church backed away from a $15 million to $30 million settlement it had announced in March.

Garabedian said that under yesterday's agreement, 16 relatives of abuse victims each will receive $10,000. An additional 20 plaintiffs, to whom Geoghan exposed himself, will receive about $27,000. And 50 other victims will divide $9.3 million. If the average payment to the 50 direct victims is used as a benchmark, the archdiocese could spend more than $50 million to settle the remaining 300 sexual claims.

Lawyers representing victims of clergy sexual abuse in other dioceses have noted that the $10 million Geoghan settlement is much lower than those reached in other parts of the country and have said they are concerned the Geoghan deal could be cited in other settlement negotiations.

Yesterday, Mark Keane, a 33-year-old New Hampshire man who was molested as a minor by Geoghan at the Waltham Boys and Girls Club, apologized to other clergy sexual abuse victims ''for setting a precedent for such a low settlement amount.'' But he also said he and others felt they had little choice, given the likelihood that the church would have appealed a court ruling upholding the larger award. ''Another three to five years in court is for many an impossible avenue,'' Keane said. ''These people are tired and emotionally spent.''

Local lawyers, for their part, scoffed at the idea that this settlement would set financial boundaries for future settlements. ''We are paying no attention to it all,'' said lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose firm, Greenberg Traurig, represents 237 alleged clergy abuse victims. ''Jury sensitivity, based upon surveying we have done, shows that the jury's reaction to those who allegedly protect child abusers is very, very poor,'' MacLeish said.

Carmen Durso, a lawyer representing 28 people who say they were molested by clergy members, also rejected the idea that the Geoghan settlement sets parameters. ''You can't say that anyone who is injured is entitled to the same degree of compensation,'' said Durso. ''Everyone and every case is different.''

Matt Carroll of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.M ichael Rezendes can be reached at

This story ran on page A8 of the Boston Globe on 9/20/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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