Church settles with 16 alleged molestation victims

Associated Press/October 10, 2002

Manchester, N.H. -- Sixteen men who said they were sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests as boys have settled lawsuits for a combined $950,000, church officials said Thursday.

Bishop John B. McCormack has offered to meet with each of the 16 and has written to each, the Diocese of Manchester said at a news conference announcing the settlement.

"I would like to offer you personally my sincere apology and express my willingness to assist you in any way I can to help you move forward in your life,'' McCormack said in the letters.

All 16 are clients of Concord lawyer Charles Douglas, who said they have asked not to be identified. The individual settlements will not be disclosed, though no individual will get more than $150,000.

Collectively, they accused eight former priests of molesting them between 1957 and 1982. The diocese said four have died, two are alive but no longer function as priests, and two left the ministry in the 1960s. Officials said the names of all eight were made public earlier.

Overall, the diocese, which covers New Hampshire, is being sued by more than 100 alleged victims. Lawyer Mark Abramson represents 56, and a class action suit by lawyer Peter Hutchins covers about 60 others.

The attorney general's office is investigating how the diocese handled complaints of sexual abuse by priests. The results are expected in December.

Douglas and other lawyers have said they hoped to settle, though Abramson recently said talks involving his clients had broken down.

The diocese has said that no active priest in New Hampshire is the subject of credible molestation charges or allegations.

The Rev. Edward Arsenault, chancellor of the diocese, would not say what the church did to verify or disprove the individual allegations.

"They reported to us that they were harmed. That's all I'm going to say,'' he said.

Douglas said the men range in age from their mid 30s to late 50s. He said some continue to attend church, others have not been in decades. He said some have declined the offer to meet with McCormack.

In May, Douglas announced he was representing eight alleged victims, including one who said he was abused by the Rev. Leo Shea, a retired priest who pleaded guilty in 1994 to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old altar boy.

According to a parish directory, Shea lives in Danbury. He has not responded to efforts to reach him at home or through the diocese.

That suit also alleged abuse by the Rev. Philip Breton of Assumption Parish in Tilton, and the Rev. Hubert Mann of St. Charles Parish in Dover. According to the lawsuit, Breton died in 1984, and Mann died in 1972.

One of Douglas' clients accused Shea of molesting him at another priest's funeral around 1970 at St. Anthony's church in Manchester.

"Shea would chase the altar boys around the church, corner them and attack them,'' Douglas charged in the Hillsborough County Superior Court lawsuit.

None of the alleged victims was identified in the lawsuit.

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