Lawsuit settlement offer rejected, counterproposal made

Lawyers for the 542 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse currently suing the Archdiocese of Boston have rejected the $55 million settlement offer made by Archbishop Seán O’Malley Aug. 8.

On Aug. 18, the plaintiffs’ attorneys presented a counterproposal, details of which had not been made public as of press time. The counterproposal was presented to lead lawyer for the archdiocese, Thomas Hannigan Jr., during a three-hour meeting in Brockton.

"Both sides are working very hard," said Mitchell Garabedian, one of the eight victims' lawyers at the meeting. "Obviously, both sides are hoping we can resolve this as soon as possible."

Garabedian, who represents 120 alleged victims of clergy abuse, said the lawyers also discussed the possible creation of an independent committee of victims to review future allegations of abuse, as part of the settlement.

Attorney Jeffrey Newman, of Greenberg Traurig, said the lawyers are hopeful Archbishop O’Malley will approve the counterproposal.

"If the Church wants to resolve it, and we're not so distant in terms of valuation and in terms of the details, it may come together fairly quickly," Newman said.

The original $55 million settlement proposal amounted to an average of about $101,000 per plaintiff— or about $70,000 after attorneys’ fees. The proposal reportedly called for each plaintiff’s settlement to be based on “the type and severity of abuse and damage sustained,” with independent mediators working out a formula with the plaintiffs and their lawyers.

Plaintiffs had 30 days to accept the initial offer, which would have gone into effect if at least 95 percent of the claimants had accepted it. The amount would have been reduced by 1/542 for every plaintiff who did not sign on.

If approved, it would have been the largest settlement of clergy abuse allegations since the scandal broke in early 2002. Last year, the Archdiocese of Boston reached a $10 million settlement with 86 alleged victims of former priest John Geoghan.

On Aug. 14, Archbishop O’Malley met with State Attorney General Thomas Reilly to discuss the archdiocese’s sexual abuse prevention policy, which was promulgated in May.

The meeting comes in the wake of the report issued by Reilly detailing the findings a 16-month investigation into the handling of sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy. The report, “The Sexual Abuse of Children in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston,” was issued July 23.

The investigation did not find evidence of recent or ongoing sexual abuse of children in the archdiocese. However, Reilly stopped short of attributing this to the child protection efforts undertaken by the Archdiocese of Boston.

"The archdiocese has yet to demonstrate a commitment to the protection of children that is proportional to the harm committed over the decades," stated Reilly. The archdiocese he said must display this commitment not only through its policies, but also through its actions.

The Aug. 14 meeting, which the archdiocese described as “positive, frank and informative,” lasted for about 90 minutes.

"Archbishop O'Malley is hopeful that dialogue with the Attorney General's office will continue and will foster the efforts of the archdiocese to bring openness about and healing of the scandal of clergy abuse of children while promoting the protection of children in all areas of society," the archdiocesan statement went on to say.

Father Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, declined to comment on both the counterproposal and the meeting with Reilly.