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Spotlight Report

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Abuse settlement possible next week, Lennon says

By Ralph Ranalli and Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 6/20/2003

ST. LOUIS -- Efforts to reach a settlement between the Archdiocese of Boston and lawyers for some victims of clergy sexual abuse have reached a ''much more serious'' stage, with a settlement offer from the archdiocese expected next week, Bishop Richard G. Lennon said yesterday.

Lennon, interim head of the archdiocese, said he is increasingly hopeful that the archdiocese will be able to settle the hundreds of outstanding legal claims brought against it. He spoke briefly with the Globe while attending a meeting in St. Louis of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In a separate interview with New England Cable News, Lennon struck a hopeful tone about the possibility of avoiding years of damaging litigation, saying he believed that a resolution was ''coming together.''

A lawyer who represents many of the plaintiffs was more cautious yesterday, saying that Lennon's remarks were causing as much anxiety as hope among his clients and that the archdiocese's strategy of announcing a last-minute offer was fraught with risk.

''We have had calls off the hook from our people lately saying, `We want to know what is going on,' '' lawyer Jeffrey Newman said. ''Now they announce that they are going to make an offer. Well, that is all well and good, as long as they come through.''

Lawyers for the church, Newman said, have given lawyers for the plaintiffs no details about either the amount of the settlement offer or the mechanism for determining how much each alleged abuse victim would receive. Lawyers from the plaintiffs' side have also not been told whether the archdiocese will consider next week's offer a starting point for negotiation or a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.

Newman said that many of the more than 250 clients represented by his firm, Greenberg Traurig, were upset by recent news of the arrest and resignation in Phoenix of Bishop Thomas O'Brien, who had surrendered part of his duties because of criticism that he had mishandled abuse cases and on Tuesday was charged with leaving the scene of a fatal car accident. There was also a report of the unexplained near drowning of abuse victim Patrick McSorley, who was found Wednesday afternoon in the Neponset River in Dorchester's Pope John Paul II Park. McSorley was part of a $10 million settlement of abuse cases the archdiocese agreed to in 2002.

''Basically, they have created an explosive situation,'' Newman said of the announcement of the pending settlement offer. ''There is a lot of anxiety. I was surprised because the concept was, `Let's see if something is workable before we make an announcement.' This is a time when the lawyers and us should be getting together to create an atmosphere where we can all come out ahead.''

If the offer from the archdiocese is much too low to be acceptable or presented as a take-it-or-leave-it, the two sides might never be able to reach a solution, Newman said.

Lawyers for about 80 percent of the more than 500 people suing the archdiocese over sexual abuse agreed late last month to halt litigation for 30 days in hope of working out a settlement.

Lawyers for the remaining 100 or so clients have refused to participate in the moratorium, saying they do not trust the archdiocese.

In the Globe interview, Lennon also said he was deeply concerned about the plight of McSorley, who remained hospitalized yesterday. Lennon said that a priest and the archdiocesan victim outreach coordinator, Barbara Thorp, had visited McSorley and his family.

This story ran on page A10 of the Boston Globe on 6/20/2003.
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