Tentative $85M Church Abuse Deal Reached

Boston Archdiocese, Victims Tentatively Agree to Settle Abuse Cases for $85 Million, Sources Say

Associated Press/September 9, 2003

Boston -- Lawyers for more than 500 alleged victims of clergy sex abuse and the Boston Archdiocese have tentatively agreed to settle hundreds of the cases for $85 million, two sources close to the negotiations told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The tentative agreement was reached late Monday, but one source close to the talks said lawyers involved do not consider it a done deal until they have a written document signed by representatives on both sides.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, issued a brief statement Tuesday morning saying no settlement had been reached, but that "all parties are still working towards a settlement offer and are hopeful it can get done." He called the reports "premature."

An agreement in principle was reached late Monday, after newly installed Archbishop Sean O'Malley spent 6 1/2 hours Sunday night negotiating directly with the victims' lawyers, both sources said.

A third source also close to the talks said nothing had been finalized and would not confirm the $85 million figure.

A steering committee of lawyers representing victims began meeting Sunday night with Paul H. Hannigan Jr., the lead attorney for the archdiocese, and with mediator Paul A. Finn of Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation, a Brockton firm. Finn has been involved in the talks off and on in recent weeks.

Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley attended Sunday's meeting at the invitation of the mediator, the third source said. He stayed until it ended after midnight, but was not in on the talks when they resumed Monday afternoon.

O'Malley, who was installed July 30, vowed to bring a speedy resolution to the legal claims.

During the last two weeks, the two sides had narrowed the gap between the archdiocese's original $55 million offer and the $90 million to $120 million sought by the victims.

The two days of negotiations followed a public tussle late last week, when a scheduled Saturday meeting with O'Malley was scuttled because of infighting among lawyers.

O'Malley had agreed to hear directly from 10 victims during a negotiating session that some thought would produce a settlement agreement.

O'Malley left late Monday for Washington, D.C., where he was scheduled to attend a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Administrative Committee, which begins Tuesday and runs through Thursday.

O'Malley, installed in July to lead the nation's fourth-largest Roman Catholic diocese, quickly took an influential role in the lawsuit settlement negotiations. He replaced Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned after a barrage of criticism over his handling of sex abuse allegations.

O'Malley was bishop of the Fall River Diocese, where one of the most notorious clergy abuse cases surfaced in the 1990s involving the Rev. James Porter. O'Malley met with many of the victims, a step that was seen as critical to the eventual settlement of more than 100 lawsuits.

And shortly after he arrived in Boston, he replaced the lead lawyers representing the archdiocese with Tom Hannigan Jr., an attorney credited with helping to settle the Fall River cases.

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