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Spotlight Report

15 settle against Jesuits

By Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 1/10/2003

Fourteen men, 10 of them former students at Boston College High School, will receive about $5.2 million to settle claims against a Jesuit priest who they say molested them during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s - often forcibly after pinning them to the floor during wrestling matches.

The Rev. James Talbot was removed from his position at Cheverus High School in Portland, Maine, in 1998 after the first of his many alleged victims came forward. Last September, Talbot was indicted on rape charges for assaults that allegedly occurred when he taught at B.C. High from 1972 to 1980.

Another alleged victim of a second Jesuit, the Rev. Francis J. McManus, received a settlement of about $600,000 for his claim that McManus molested him while McManus taught at the Dorchester school in the early 1980s.

Altogether, the 15 men will receive payments of $5.8 million, ranging from $75,000 for one alleged victim to a settlement of over $1 million for one of Talbot's alleged victims. The cases were settled through mediation, with all 15 claimants represented by Boston lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr.

At least two additional civil claims against Talbot are expected to be filed, by two former B.C. High students who have retained lawyer Mitchell Garabedian.

B.C. High President William J. Kemeza and Daniel J. Gleason, the school's attorney, said that 11 of the 15, including the alleged McManus victim, were B.C. High students who were allegedly molested in the 1970s and early 1980s. Two were teenage boys who worked at a Jesuit residence in the South End where Talbot lived. And the final two were students at Cheverus, the Jesuit high school in Portland, where Talbot allegedly sexually abused them in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The costs of the settlement will be shared by the two high schools, the Jesuit New England province, the Diocese of Portland, and several insurance carriers.

Kemeza, who announced the settlements last night, said that since the former students started to come forward last March, the school has instituted policies that he said ''will ensure that nothing like this will ever happen again.''

Kemeza, who attended the mediation sessions that led to the settlements, said many of the victims believed the school's administrators two decades ago should have known what was happening.

''I often wondered: What was going on back then?'' Kemeza said. Sometimes, he said, ''it's amazing that people don't see what's going on right in front of them.''

Kemeza was referring to Talbot's frequent insistence that soccer players he coached, and some hockey players too, strip down to their jockstraps and wrestle with him in front of others - a practice that was openly whispered about among students. In interviews early last year, several of the former students said Talbot later lured them to one-on-one sessions, where he pinned them to mats and molested them.

Last March, the Globe obtained documents from about the time Talbot was transferred to Cheverus in 1980 that hinted that both schools knew something inappropriate had happened.

Talbot was removed in 1998 after a 16th alleged victim, Cheverus graduate Michael Doherty, filed a lawsuit in Maine. His case was settled in 2001. Talbot's criminal indictment was made possible because he was in Maine for 18 years, and the clock on the statute of limitations in Massachusetts stopped running.

MacLeish and Kemeza both credited Brockton mediator Paul A. Finn and his associate, retired Superior Court Judge John Tierney, for the compassionate way they treated the victims and their efforts to reach agreement.

A decade ago, it was Finn who mediated settlements involving more than 100 victims of priest pedophile James R. Porter. Last September, Finn oversaw the settlement of 36 abuse claims against the Providence diocese for $13.5 million. Finn had also mediated a prospective settlement of between $15 million and $30 million for 86 plaintiffs against former priest John J. Geoghan last year until the Archdiocese of Boston backed away from the deal.

With the Boston Archdiocese now facing claims against priests from 500 other people, Finn has recently become involved again to help mediator Paul Sugarman.

This story ran on page A12 of the Boston Globe on 1/10/2003.
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