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Spotlight Report

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Lawyers challenge church officials to open records

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 6/18/2002

Attorneys battling the Boston archdiocese over claims of clergy sexual abuse yesterday challenged church officials to open their books to back up their claim that the sex abuse scandal is draining donations and limiting their ability to make financial settlements to alleged victims.

''If the archdiocese is going to claim an inability to come up with fair compensation then they're going to have to open their books and show just what they have available in terms of real estate and other assets,'' said Robert Sherman, a lawyer representing alleged victims of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley.

The Globe reported yesterday that the archdiocese is planning to slash its operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 by up to 40 percent and that a drop in church donations could limit its ability to pay alleged victims of abuse by priests.

Philip Saviano, New England director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said yesterday that Cardinal Bernard F. Law could solve the archdiocese's financial problems by resigning, a move he and others said is necessary to restore the church's credibility.

''If the leader of the archdiocese took some responsibility for his actions and issued his resignation the fund-raising problems will be very quickly solved,'' Saviano said, adding that withholding funds from the church is one of the few ways for parishioners to express their displeasure with Law's leadership.

Thousands of church documents made public under court orders since January show that Law and other church leaders had extensive knowledge of sexual abuse claims against priests who were allowed to remain in active ministry.

Yesterday, Voice of the Faithful, a group of concerned parishioners founded after the sex abuse scandal broke, announced an alternative fund-raising program designed to allow donors who object to Law's leadership to make tax deductible contributions directly to church programs, bypassing the Chancery.

James E. Post, a cofounder of the group and a Boston University School of Management professor, said Voice of the Faithful delayed announcing the drive until after the Cardinal's Appeal was launched, during the first weekend of May, to avoid competing with the drive. Church officials said Friday that $4.8 million has been pledged since the appeal was announced, compared with $7.5 million at this time last year.

Post said the alternative fund-raising drive, which will be operational by month's end, will be conducted with the National Catholic Community Foundation, a Maryland-based nonprofit group.

Chancellor David E. Smith did not return calls from the Globe yesterday. Last Friday, however, he said he would attempt to cut church spending by as much as 40 percent in the next fiscal year, a move that will affect scores of church programs, including those serving the urban poor.

Smith also said the archdiocese has $50 million available through third-party insurance for coverage of sexual abuse claims until 1989 when the church started self-insuring, although insurers had balked at settling some past claims.

Yesterday, Sherman said he and attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who also represents alleged victims, have been told by church attorneys that the archdiocese has $50 million in insurance for the years covering 1977 through early 1989 and additional self-insurance for subsequent years.

MacLeish said church lawyers have not produced the insurance policies to back up those claims. ''We've repeatedly asked for copies of the policies because we don't think that's it. We think there's more,'' he said.

Church lawyers, in response to a negligent supervision suit filed against Law by MacLeish and Sherman on behalf of alleged Shanley victims, said Law is covered by the state doctrine of charitable immunity, which would limit claims against him to $20,000.

MacLeish said yesterday that he is considering filing a civil suit against the church under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, RICO, which would not be covered by the state charitable immunity law.

Michael Rezendes can be reached at

This story ran on page A10 of the Boston Globe on 6/18/2002.
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