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Spotlight Report

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Church sets hard line on abuse trials

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 10/30/2003

If alleged sexual abuse victims of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley take their civil cases to court instead of opting to participate in the historic $85 million settlement agreement, the Archdiocese of Boston will insist that the cases be tried separately and will oppose any effort to merge them, a lawyer for the men and a spokesman for the archdiocese said yesterday.

According to lawyers for alleged victims, only 10 claimants out of 552 -- all alleged victims of Shanley or their family members -- are expected to reject the proposed settlement. The deadline for opting into the agreement is today.

All 10 of those claimants have sued over alleged abuse by Shanley at St. Jean's Parish in Newton in the early 1980s.

Four of the 10, all men, are alleged victims; the other six are their relatives who have sued for loss of consortium.

Only the Ford family of Newton, who allege that their son, Gregory, was abused by Shanley, has come forward publicly to say that they would reject the settlement offer.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer for Shanley's alleged victims, said he spoke with lawyers for the archdiocese yesterday in an effort to have the cases consolidated. MacLeish said consolidation would prevent the plaintiffs, who would probably testify for each other, from being subjected to multiple trials and would allow the jury to see a pattern of abuse by Shanley.

The idea was flatly rejected by church lawyers, he said.

"They want those four young men to face being alone in court," said MacLeish. "That would allow the archdiocese to take one isolated piece of the puzzle, concentrate on it, and pick it apart."

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said yesterday that it has "been the position of the archdiocese all along that each case has to stand on its own merits."

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