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Boston archdiocese backs out of deal

The finance council says the growing number of accusers means a settlement would prove too costly.

©Associated Press

May 4, 2002

The finance council says the growing number of accusers means a settlement would prove too costly.

BOSTON -- The Archdiocese of Boston on Friday backed out of a settlement with 86 people who accuse now-defrocked priest John Geoghan of sexual abuse, saying the deal was too expensive given the growing number of potential victims.

The archdiocese's finance council rejected Cardinal Bernard Law's request to sign the settlement agreement, estimated to be worth $15-million to $30-million.

The council said the settlement would "leave the archdiocese unable to provide a just and proportional response to other victims," said David Smith, chancellor for the archdiocese.

Mitchell Garabedian, attorney for Geoghan's accusers, said he had been assured the settlement would go forward and called the council's decision "a revictimization" of his clients.

"This is a disgrace. Are these people inhuman?" Garabedian said.

The council recommended providing counseling for victims and their families and creating a victims' fund that would not cripple the archdiocese and its mission, Smith said.

"That's our professed hope, that there will be fairness and equity overall," said Regina Gaines, an administrator at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who serves on the council. "It's just such a neverending situation, one wonders about just making sure everyone is treated fairly and equitably."

The agreement between the archdiocese and the 86 plaintiffs was reached in March, when church officials believed the number of additional victims would be very small. "It has become increasingly obvious over the last 90 days that that's not the case," Smith said.

The Archdiocese of Boston has paid an estimated $15-million to 40 of Geoghan's accusers since the mid 1990s and faces dozens more claims and hundreds of new allegations against him and other priests.

Geoghan was convicted in January of molesting a 10-year-old boy and is serving a nine- to 10-year sentence. Records showed church officials knew Geoghan had been accused of abuse but kept moving him from parish to parish.

Wilson Rogers Jr., attorney for the archdiocese, and Law acknowledged the concern of the council about the growing number of claims but urged the members to vote for the settlement, Smith said.

But the council voted to reject the deal. It was the first time since Law came to Boston in 1984 that it did not give its required consent to something he supported.

Law expressed regret about the vote, since the council had previously expressed a desire to see the settlement go forward, Smith said.

"He lives and we all live with the painful truth that in this crisis there is no easy answer," Smith said.

Ralph DelVecchio, one of the plaintiffs, said he was stunned to hear the diocese had backed out.

"I don't understand why everyone keeps talking about money," he said. "If the church did what they were supposed to do years ago, they wouldn't be in this position. They kept moving the priest around. They made their bed, and now they're worried about paying."

Jeffrey Newman, an attorney who represents more than 100 accusers of other priests, said any chance of settling with the archdiocese has "imploded" because he couldn't take the church at its word.

"This set off a powder keg," Newman said. "These poor individuals were already emotionally fragile, and the church raised expectations that they could relax for the first time in their lives."

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