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Spotlight Report

Archdiocese, lawyers call 30-day truce

Parties set talks that could lead to settlement

By Michael Rezendes and Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 6/20/2002

Three days after US Catholic bishops meeting in Dallas said they would act decisively to end clergy sexual abuse, attorneys for the Boston Archdiocese and more than 200 alleged victims of abuse here called a 30-day truce last night, declaring their intention to put nearly all new legal action on hold for a least a month to explore a possible financial settlement.

Attorney Jeffrey A. Newman, who represents at least 100 of the plaintiffs, said he believes Cardinal Bernard F. Law and other church officials returned from Dallas intent on reaching a settlement. Newman, who spearheaded the talks that led to last night's agreement, also said the lawyers for alleged victims were willing to postpone further legal proceedings after discovering they were so burdened with making court appearances and taking pretrial testimony that they had no time to discuss any possible resolution to the litigation.

''We'd sit down and look at our schedules looking for a time to talk things over and find that there were no dates available because everyone was in depositions,'' Newman said, adding that lawyers also felt they needed a respite from the high emotions that often accompany lawsuits over sexual abuse. ''Because of the intensity of the litigation, I know that I found it very difficult to talk about a settlement,'' Newman said.

Donna M. Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese and Law, said in a prepared statement that the agreement was reached with four lawyers for alleged victims: Roderick MacLeish Jr., Robert Sherman, Carmen Durso, and Newman. The statement said the four lawyers, as well as attorneys for the church and Law, ''have agreed to postpone all discovery including depositions for 30 days while they engage in preliminary discussions concerning the settlement of claims.''

The four attorneys represent alleged victims of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley and other priests but not those who say they were molested by former priest John J. Geoghan.

The voluntary agreement, which was reached independently of the courts, does not include attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents the 86 alleged victims of Geoghan who were part of a $15 million to $30 million settlement agreement with church officials announced in March.

The truce also will have no effect on a dispute between the church and lawyers covered by the agreement over the immediate release of depositions, and videotapes of pretrial testimony, given by Law and Bishop John B. McCormack. That dispute is before a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court.

MacLeish said the agreement was reached at about 6 last night. ''It made sense, based upon what we felt was expressions of good faith on the part of the archdiocese, to take time out to discuss some very complicated cases and find a framework in which the cases could be settled,'' he said.

Neither MacLeish nor Newman would discuss the specific assurances they had received from the church, saying that they and church officials had decided they would not publicly discuss what led to the agreement.

But in recent days, church officials said that the sexual abuse scandal had hit archdiocese fund-raising so hard that donations to the annual Cardinal's Appeal were off by more than a third, compared with this time last year, and that operating expenses would be slashed by up to 40 percent in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

And on Tuesday, sources said that Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly had convened a grand jury to consider whether there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against Law and other church officials who played roles in keeping priests accused of sexual misconduct in active ministry.

Last month, the church backed away from its deal with Garabedian and alleged Geoghan victims, asserting that it did not have the funds to cover the settlement and pay claims by new victims while maintaining operations that include support for 369 parishes and 80 church programs, including Catholic high schools and subsidies for programs aimed at the urban poor. But Garabedian has said he believes the archdiocese can afford the settlement and is seeking to have Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney enforce the agreement.

After the archdiocese backed away from the deal, church officials also said privately that they objected to the financial ceilings that had been established for some categories of alleged victims. The individual payments, which were to be determined by an outside mediator, ranged from up to $75,000 for individuals who allegedly saw Geoghan display himself naked, to more than $400,000 for those who had been allegedly raped.

Newman said he had been meeting with officials from the archdiocese since early last week and that he was convinced they were serious in reaching a settlement with as many plaintiffs as possible. Newman declined to identify the officials with whom he spoke.

Newman said he would be meeting with the church officials - as well as their lawyers, accountants, and insurance representatives - during the next month.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/20/2002.
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