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Spotlight Report

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Contrite Lennon vows settlement is 'first priority'

By Ralph Ranalli and Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 6/28/2003

Acknowledging victims' pain and promising to ''do everything possible'' to reach a settlement agreement soon, Bishop Richard G. Lennon apologized yesterday to victims of clergy sexual abuse for the church's failure to make an anticipated offer to settle hundreds of civil lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Boston.

''I am sorry that the resolution is not at hand today,'' Lennon, the interim head of the archdiocese, said in a statement released by the archdiocese. ''I want to again restate my personal pledge to do everything possible to bring the settlement process to a just resolution. I continue to make this my first priority.''

Lennon raised victims' expectations last week when he told reporters at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in St. Louis that he hoped and believed a settlement offer would be made this week. Those expectations were dashed Thursday, however, when church officials announced that they had been unable to come to a financial agreement with their insurance companies, which are expected to contribute a major portion of any settlement.

''While significant progress has been made over the past few months toward a settlement, I appreciate for victim survivors that the fact that we are not at the conclusion of this process is the source of ongoing suffering and distress,'' Lennon said yesterday. ''This distress is shared by family members of survivors, as well as by the community at large, and by myself.

''I have met with many survivors over the past six months and I have heard firsthand the depth of their suffering. I understand that the lack of resolution of the settlement causes further pain, mistrust, and spiritual alienation for the victims and that it seriously impedes the healing process not only for them and their loved ones, but for the whole church,'' he said.

While calling Lennon's apology a necessary step, advocates for alleged abuse victims said they need more concrete proof of the archdiocese's willingness to resolve the cases.

''People do want an apology, which is great, but people really want a settlement,'' said Ann Hagan Webb, co-coordinator of the New England chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. ''Emotions are so high, and people are anxious, discouraged, and unable to move forward. What they need is some action in good faith, like maybe selling a piece of church property -- an expensive one.''

Lennon's apology came on the day that a 30-day moratorium on litigation, which was designed to facilitate settlement talks, expired. Lawyers for both sides are scheduled to meet with state Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney early next week.

Also yesterday, Lennon announced, in the pages of the archdiocesan newspaper The Pilot, the names of the new members of a review board that will consider allegations of abuse by clergy.

Under the new national child protection policy of the Catholic church, the board must have a majority of members who are lay people not in the employ of the archdiocese and must include at least one priest and one expert on the treatment of minors who are sexually abused. The board functions as a ''confidential consultative body'' to the bishop and does not itself have the power to decide what to do with an allegedly abusive priest.

Members of the review board are Jeffrey Bradley, a Milton social worker; Paul M. Connelly, the executive vice president of Longwood Security Services Inc. of Brookline; Rev. Michael J. Doyle, the pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Canton; Judge Mary Fitzpatrick, a retired chief justice of probate and family court; Maureen McGettigan, a psychotherapist; Roselyn Perard, a nurse; Dr. Wilfrid Pilette, a child psychiatrist; Carola Pontone of the Marian Association; and Barbara Suojanen, a nurse.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 6/28/2003.
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