The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Some alleged victims buoyed by meeting

Archbishop-elect seen as best chance for settling claims

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 7/2/2003

As Bishop Sean Patrick O'Malley made his first public remarks yesterday as archbishop-elect of Boston, alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse and their lawyers looked for signs that their long legal battle with the church was coming to an end.

Some were buoyed by his statement that the archdiocese needs to ''step up to the plate'' and settle the hundreds of claims filed by alleged abuse victims, praising his track record of confronting insurance companies to get settlement money, as he did when he headed the Fall River Diocese.

Alleged victims and their lawyers say he must do that again if he wants to resolve the more than 500 abuse claims in Boston.

''If his actions match his rhetoric, there is some cause for hope,'' said Peter Pollard, who has filed a lawsuit alleging abuse by the Rev. George J. Rosenkranz more than 30 years ago. ''But given our past experience over decades it would behoove us to be cautious.''

Rodney Ford, whose son, Gregory, was allegedly molested in Newton by the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, summed up the emotions of many victims and their families.

''I think it was an encouraging day,'' said Ford, who was among a group of 10 alleged victims and family members who met with O'Malley at the chancery in Brighton yesterday. ''But then again, if he doesn't fix it, I don't think anyone ever will. It will just go on forever.''

At his first press conference since being named archbishop by the Vatican, O'Malley said the church has a ''moral obligation'' to settle the claims of people allegedly abused by clergy.

''I have always told dioceses and lawyers in the past that settlements are not hush money, or extortion, or anything other than the rightful indemnification of persons that have suffered gravely at the hands of a priest, even when I have been told that there is no legal obligation,'' O'Malley said. ''We must step up to the plate. People's lives are more important than money.''

O'Malley mentioned his willingness in the past to confront the church's insurers in order to get settlement money for victims. In a previous posting in Fall River, O'Malley borrrowed money for a multi-million-dollar settlement with 100 victims of defrocked priest James Porter, and then took insurer CNA to court, eventually recovering a portion of the settlement money. Neither the amount of the settlement with victims nor the Fall River Diocese's settlement with CNA has been disclosed because of confidentiality agreements.

''In Fall River, we had to take an insurance company to court to get them to pay, but we tried to settle as quickly and as equitably as possible, and we used a team of arbitrators to work with the victims in order to make the allocations, so that we would have professional people doing that,'' he said. ''I'll try and do whatever I can to expedite the [current] situation.''

The Boston Archdiocese and its insurers have failed to reach an amicable agreement to share the cost of a settlement with victims, and until now the archdiocese has apparently been unwilling to take the insurers to court.

In announcing last week that the archdiocese would not to able to make an anticipated settlement offer to alleged victims, Bishop Richard G. Lennon said that the church had been unable to resolve disputes with its insurers.

Lawyers for Boston plaintiffs, who first urged the archdiocese to sue its insurers a year ago, renewed their call for the church to take its insurers, Kemper and Travelers, to court.

''The archdiocese cannot wait for some insurance company to set the timetable on resolving sexual abuse claims,'' said Jeffrey Newman, a lawyer for the Boston firm Greenberg Traurig, which represents more than 200 people suing the archdiocese.

Others interpreting O'Malley's words yesterday put a hopeful spin on the new archbishop's comments about where he will live. Many victims and their lawyers have come to see the potential sale of the ornate archbishop's residence and the 16-acre chancery site in Brighton - which church officials say has an assessed value of $51 million, but is heavily mortgaged - as a source of settlement funds.

O'Malley said he had not decided where he would live, but said that as a Franciscan friar, he preferred ''to have the simplest quarters.''

This story ran on page A26 of the Boston Globe on 7/2/2003.
© Copyright 2003 New York Times Co.

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