Secret settlements protected Roman Catholic priests and leaders

News Summary: "Settlement kept scope of issue out of public eye" Boston Globe January 31, 2002

April 11, 2006
By Rick Ross

In a decade the Archdiocese of Boston secretly settled child sexual abuse claims against at least 70 priests from 1992 to 2002 according to the Boston Globe.

And four were convicted of criminal charges, including John J. Geoghan; a former priest later murdered in prison.

But most of the priests accused remained protected and unknown through negotiated private settlements according to attorneys.

One law firm alone obtained settlement for about 45 priests and five brothers, according to attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr.

A public database in 2002 identified 102 priests placed on sick leave and removed from parish assignments during the 1990s. At least 30 of that 102 were involved in sexual abuse settlements.

Roman Catholic Church directories in Boston also reflected that a number of suspected priests were shifted out of parishes and placed on ''sick leave,'' ''absent on leave,'' and ''awaiting assignment' status.'

Some priests that sexually abused children eventually became chaplains in hospitals and prisons, despite a statement made by Cardinal Bernard F. Law that no such assignment would ever be allowed.

It seems that Law who would later step down as Cardinal of Boston and move to Rome only began to take action after 1992. At that time the archdiocese faced embarrassing revelations about a former priest James R. Porter.

''The cardinal was running scared after the Porter case, so the archdiocese paid what amounted to `hush money' to settle cases. Their motive was to avoid scandal and hope it would all go away,'' one attorney told the Boston Globe.

A $400,000 settlement was paid to one family alone whose children were subjected to sexually explicit telephone calls from Geoghan, a lawyer said.

''I'm ashamed I took their money now,'' said Raymond P. Sinibaldi. He received a settlement from the church in 1995 after allegedly being abused by Rev. Ernest E. Tourigney, at Immaculate Conception in Weymouth in the 1960s. ''I should have gone and reported it to the police, or filed a lawsuit and called a press conference to announce it. If we had done that, this problem would have been exposed long ago.''

''Obviously, confidentiality agreements are good for the perpetrator and his or her enablers since the secrecy allows for further wrongful acts to continue,'' said attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who settled about 50 cases tied to Geoghan.

Thousands of pages of secret church records documented just how much Law and other bishops knew about Geoghan's sex abuse.

However, those records remained secured and unavailable because of the secret agreements reached through out of court settlements.

The archdiocese also settled privately regarding priest Robert M. Burns. Church officials knew his history of pedophilia when he was assigned to St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Jamaica Plain in 1982, and to St. Mary's Church in Charlestown in 1985.

More allegations emerged in 1991 and Burns was removed.

Burns was reportedly called in to see the Rev. Gilbert S. Phinn, then the director of clergy personnel in the area and sources say that Phinn told Burns to say nothing about his history.

''I prefer not to discuss it,'' Phinn responded when the Boston Globe asked him about Burns.

The Boston Globe asked Cardinal Bernard Law how many priests molested children within his archdiocese, ''I cannot estimate a number," he said.

The Boston Globe found evidence of other claims, settled or pending in 2001, against 19 priests and one former seminarian. Two of those priests had been removed after accusations that they molested children.

20 civil lawsuits were reportedly settled in Middlesex, Suffolk, and Essex counties, but the judges impounded the names of priests and their victims.

The vast majority of cases were settled privately, without any court action.

Because of such secrecy it is difficult to know the number of victims in Boston.

Attorney Robert A. Sherman represented many victims. He said that confidentiality was a major factor for settlements made with the Boston archdiocese.

''My role was to help these victims and their families close painful chapters in their lives. For most of them, getting a check from the archdiocese and a promise that the priest would not be allowed near children again was vindication for them, an acknowledgment that they had been wronged,'' Sherman said.

The attorney added that there was ''a likelihood that someone in a supervisory capacity knew or should have known that the abuse was occurring, but did nothing to stop it.''

The Boston Globe learned the identities of nearly 40 of the priests and former priests for whom the archdiocese has settled claims of sexual abuse.

Four of those priests acknowledged that the claims against them had been settled. These four were:

  • Ronald H. Paquin, who admitted he sexually abused children and was placed on sick leave in 1990 after being removed from St. John the Baptist Church in Haverhill.
  • Jay M. Mullin, accused of abusing a child at St. Anthony's parish in Allston
  • Bernard J. Lane, accused of raping teenage boys at a church-run treatment center in Littleton
  • C. Melvin Surette, who was accused of sexual abuse also at Littleton.

Lane and Mullin acknowledged their accusers received settlements, but denied guilt. Surette's lawyer, Michael E. Mone, acknowledged the archdiocese settled a claim against him, but his client also denied the allegations.

As of 2002 many priests accused of sexually abusing children lived unsupervised in local communities that knew nothing about their past.

David Clohessy, the national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that dioceses around the country, which sought private settlements, often left Catholics and others at risk with little knowledge of what went wrong.

One priest that admitted abusing children claimed that the church leaders were "protecting…their notion that the church is a perfect society."

Copyright © Rick Ross

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