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Spotlight Report

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Lawyers for abuse plaintiffs voice optimism on settlement

By John Ellement, Globe Staff, 8/23/2003

Attorneys for victims of clergy sexual abuse said yesterday they were optimistic that a settlement will be reached with the Archdiocese of Boston before a trial, but would not comment on whether they will accept a $65 million offer made by the church on Thursday to resolve the claims.

''We are at a crossroads,'' said Eric MacLeish Jr., a Boston attorney whose firm, Greenberg Traurig, represents more than 260 victims. ''I'm honestly excited at the prospect of getting these cases settled.''

But Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who represents more than 100 victims, said it is important that the negotiations remain confidential and that media reports about multimillion settlement offers and counterproposals demanding millions more were raising false expectations among victims.

The Globe reported yesterday that Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley has offered $65 million to settle 542 lawsuits, which is $10 million more than the church's first offer, but still significantly less than the $90 million to $120 million that the victims' lawyers proposed.

''Numbers are being floated out there that raise victims' hopes, that raise victims' expectations, but then when they're not true, destroy the victims,'' Garabedian said. ''It's time for the archdiocese to step up to the plate. But we must do so with confidentiality.''

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, the archdiocese's spokesman, would not comment on details of the negotiations, but said the talks are continuing.

''Nothing is final. Things are going very well,'' Coyne said.

The victims' attorneys spoke at a press conference held at MacLeish's office yesterday. Also attending was David Carney, an alleged victim, and Thomas and Susan Fulchino, whose son, Christopher, is an alleged victim. Former priest John Geoghan allegedly abused Thomas Fulchino when Fulchino was a child.

Both Carney and Fulchino expressed skepticism that the archdiocese was negotiating seriously. Fulchino said he was not interested in the dollar value of any settlement, but rather wanted a long-term commitment by the archdiocese to provide the victims counseling and therapy.

''The money is really not as important as the therapy,'' Fulchino said. ''This doesn't go away.''

Both MacLeish and Garabedian praised O'Malley and the legal team of Thomas H. Hannigan Jr., and William J. Dailey Jr., that O'Malley has brought in since replacing Cardinal Bernard Law earlier this year. MacLeish said O'Malley's ''personal presence would be welcome,'' but stopped short of demanding that O'Malley personally handle the negotiations.

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