Settlement in clerical sex abuse expected to take effect

Lawyers get signatures of 80% of Boston plaintiffs

October 21, 2003|By Elizabeth Mehren | Elizabeth Mehren,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BOSTON - Lawyers for hundreds of alleged clerical sexual abuse victims said yesterday that enough plaintiffs had agreed to an $85 million settlement with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston for the deal to take effect.

The agreement, reached in early September, required signatures from 80 percent of the 552 plaintiffs. If enough signatures had not been obtained by Thursday's deadline, the agreement would have been voided.

Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney representing about 120 clients in the case against the archdiocese, said yesterday that he was submitting 114 signed agreements to mediators and church lawyers.

"I was told that if I submitted my 114, we'd be beyond the 80 percent threshold," said Garabedian, who served on a task force of lawyers representing victims and the church. That panel negotiated the consolidated agreement.

Individual awards for those who have signed off on the deal will be determined through arbitration beginning today. Those judgments will range from $80,000 to $300,000, depending on the nature and duration of abuse, according to the agreement's guidelines. Those who opted not to sign the agreement can take their cases to trial.

From Rome - where he had attended the beatification of Mother Teresa over the weekend - Boston Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley said he was pleased that the agreement had been ratified by the required number of plaintiffs.

"I hope that in the next few days, even more of the plaintiffs will agree to enter into the process," O'Malley said in a statement issued by the archdiocese.

However, O'Malley continued, "I realize, of course, that much work remains to be done."

Ann Hagan Webb - a psychotherapist who serves as head of the Massachusetts chapter of SNAP, or Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests - said many plaintiffs told her they were signing the agreement "not because they are delighted and it is wonderful, but because they feel they have no other choice."

For the most part, Webb said, "people went to civil suits as a last resort because they couldn't get justice any other way."

"They couldn't go through the criminal justice system because of statutes of limitations," she said, "and the only thing the church understands is in their pocketbooks."

The settlement taking effect this week was reached less than two months after O'Malley took the helm of the nation's fourth-largest archdiocese.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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