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Spotlight Report

Settlement talks fail in suits over clergy sex abuse in R.I.

By Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 4/25/2002

Negotiations have collapsed between the Diocese of Providence and people who say they were sexually abused by priests or nuns in Rhode Island, ending efforts to settle a decade's worth of lawsuits, the plaintiffs' lawyers said yesterday.

At a meeting with the judge handling the suits by 38 people against 11 priests and one nun, discussions fell apart over the diocese's insistence on nonbinding arbitration, according to the lawyers.

The plaintiffs rejected the demand, saying they would agree either to a settlement or binding arbitration. Under nonbinding arbitration, either party can reject the arbitrator's findings. The parties had been negotiating for a month.

''I can't believe this is happening,'' said Phyllis Hutnak, one of the plaintiffs. ''We were all getting optimistic that something positive was happening. The last 10 years have been one delay after another.''

''We're disappointed, but we're not shocked,'' said Carl P. DeLuca, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs. He said nonbinding arbitration might drag out the cases for a few more years, with no guarantee of avoiding a trial. The lawyers will now press for a trial, he said.

A spokesman for the diocese did not return several phone calls. The suits in Rhode Island have been winding their way through the courts for a decade and the alleged victims have said that legal foot-dragging by the diocese is the problem.

Four of the 11 priests who allegedly molested youths have died since the suits were filed.

''I am saddened to see that church officials would prefer to spend money fighting rather than compensate anyone who has suffered at the hands of a priest,'' said Timothy J. Conlon, another lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Meanwhile, a Cranston priest pleaded innocent yesterday to charges he raped two males, one of them a 16-year-old, over a one-year period while he was an assistant pastor at St. Mary Church.

Daniel Azzarone was indicted earlier this month by a Providence County grand jury on six counts of first-degree sexual assault and one count of second-degree sexual assault.

The assaults are alleged to have occurred between Nov. 1, 2000, and Nov. 7, 2001, in Cranston.

Azzarone, 51, appeared in Providence Superior Court accompanied by his parents and a fellow pastor. A judge released him on $7,500 cash bail but ordered him not to leave Rhode Island after dark and to have no contact with his alleged victims. He is due back in court July 24.

The Most Rev. Robert E. Mulvee, bishop of the Diocese of Providence, released a statement following Azzarone's arraignment. ''I am very troubled by the seriousness of these charges and offer my prayers for all who suffer the pain of such allegations,'' Mulvee said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Matt Carroll can be reached at

This story ran on page A28 of the Boston Globe on 4/25/2002.
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