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Spotlight Report

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Abuse records show church paid $21.2m

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 8/12/2003

he Catholic Archdiocese of Boston paid at least $21.2 million in settlements to 149 victims of sexual abuse from 1994 to 2001, and much of the money was paid out by insurance companies, according to secret annual reports prepared by church officials that were made public yesterday.

The detailed reports show for the first time that church officials had for years carefully followed both the extent of the problem of sexual abuse by clergy and its cost to the archdiocese.

The records appear to contradict statements made by Cardinal Bernard F. Law last year that sloppy record keeping and a lack of institutional memory kept church officials from fully understanding the scope of the sexual abuse problem, plaintiffs' lawyers say.

"These reports clearly show that they were tracking these things much more closely than they have ever said publicly," said Jeffrey Newman, a lawyer with the Boston firm Greenberg Traurig, which represents more than 260 people who have filed civil claims against the archdiocese over alleged sexual abuse by clergy.

Newman said that Law was receiving a yearly "roadmap to disaster" that he and other archdio cesan officials chose to ignore. In the fiscal 2000 report, for example, officials wrote that a total of 191 priests and other clergy members had been accused of sexual misconduct. The report did not specify the period of time in which the misconduct had occurred, but the number of accused priests cited is greater than lawyers for victims knew until last month.

The data are incomplete, even for the period they purport to cover. The 1999 report and the total settlement amount for fiscal 2000 are missing.

The reports state that most of the settlement money paid by the archdiocese was reimbursed by its insurance companies, the same firms that church officials have blamed over the last year for a lack of progress in settling hundreds of outstanding civil claims.

Last week, Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley made a $55 million settlement offer to 542 abuse victims. Church lawyers have said that they might have to sue its insurance carriers, Travelers and Kemper, to recover up to $40 million of the money.

Yet according to the three annual reports in which data about insurance proceeds is included -- fiscal 1997, 1998, and 2000 -- insurance companies repaid more than $13 million of the $15.3 million paid in settlements to sexual abuse victims.

The reports were compiled by three priests designated at various times to be Law's chief aides on the problem of sexual abuse.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs learned of the reports when Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly disclosed them in his blistering report on sexual abuse in the archdiocese last month. The lawyers demanded the reports from the archdiocese and filed the documents yesterday as part of the evidence in their legal claims.

The reports cover six fiscal years from 1994 to 2001. One report, for fiscal 1999, is missing, and a church spokesman said yesterday that he did not know whether it was misplaced or if one was never produced. He also said he did not know whether any reports were made after 2001.

In his report, Reilly concluded that more than 1,000 minors had probably been sexually abused by clergy members over the prior six decades. The annual reports were among the "substantial evidence" Reilly said had refuted assertions by Law that he was unaware of the extent of the problem.

"There is overwhelming evidence that for many years, Cardinal Law and his senior managers had direct, actual knowledge that substantial numbers of children in the archdiocese had been sexually abused by substantial numbers of priests," Reilly's report said. Any contention to the contrary by Law or others "is simply not credible," the report stated.

In April 2002, Law had faulted "inadequate" record keeping and a lack of a "continual institutional memory concerning allegations and cases of abuse of children" for the church's lack of awareness about the scope of the crisis.

Yet lawyers for victims say that Law had been receiving annual reports since 1994 that tracked the exact number of complaints received, the number of cases of alleged abuse, how much money the archdiocese was spending on treatment for priests, and the cost of counseling and legal settlements for victims.

A spokesman for the archdiocese, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, said yesterday that when Law spoke of poor record keeping, he was mostly referring to the years prior to 1993. Coyne said that the archdiocese began compiling detailed reports after 1993, because the archdiocese instituted a new policy for addressing sexual abuse by clergy members.

Still, Coyne conceded that the reports show that church officials had an understanding of the scope of the problem for years before taking decisive action.

"That is a fair thing to say: It wasn't until 2002 that we came to look at the depth of the problem that we had and we really began to address it," Coyne said.

The first report, covering the period from July 1, 1994 to June 30, 1995, makes it clear that officials of the archdiocese considered the information ultrasecret.

"Whenever possible, the production of the individual sections, i.e., typing, copying, etc., was done directly by the person responsible for the material and not delegated to other staff," states the introduction by the Rev. Brian M. Flatley, Law's delegate on sexual abuse matters. "The total report is not stored in any word processors. There are only three paper copies of the total report, and they are all in Father Flatley's control."

In addition to statistical data, the reports also identified trends in the problem, including a statement in the 1995 report that accused priests were beginning to receive outside legal advice counseling them not to submit to psychiatric evaluations or discuss their problem with church officials.

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