Settlement offer opens new chapter in healing process

Taking the first step in the healing process for victim-survivors, the Archdiocese of Boston, together with lawyers for victims of clergy abuse, announced on Tuesday that a settlement agreement had been reached. The $85 million settlement agreement comes nearly one month after Archbishop Seán O’Malley made an initial offer of $55 million.

Under the terms of the agreement, a mediator will decide the amount given to each victim-survivor, based on the type of sexual abuse, the duration of the abuse, and the injury they suffered.

"It's a good day for the archdiocese," declared Father Christopher Coyne, archdiocesan spokesperson, "and we haven't had too many over the past couple years... I think many of us can take some consolation in this day and continue to pray that what has happened here can be a start... a good start."

"We're very pleased to have the settlement offer and to see that the initial reaction has been so very positive," commented Barbara Thorp, director of the Archdiocesan Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach.

Thorp acknowledged that “the last 18 months has been an especially painful time for the survivors and their families,” but said that now that a settlement has been reached, the healing process can better be achieved.

"That has always been our commitment: that we continue to help the survivors -- in counseling, in their emotional lives and in their spiritual lives," she said.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the landmark settlement “demonstrates that the Church is committed to working out just settlements which seek to meet, to the extent possible, the needs of people who have suffered terribly.”

"Certainly a monetary settlement is only part of the process of healing," Bishop Gregory said in a statement released in Washington shortly after the first news of the agreement, "That is why the archdiocese will continue to offer psychological counseling to victims."

"This is an important agreement. ... I hope that all the victims will choose to participate, he said.

Bishop Gregory noted that the situation in Boston has had a wider affect on the Catholic Church in the U.S. as a whole.

"These were among the cases that precipitated 20 months of soul-searching by the Church," he said. "We are visibly seeking to heal our wounds caused by sexual abuse."

Reaction to the settlement agreement has also been extremely positive on the part of the victim-survivors and their families.

Calling the settlement “another positive, symbolic step the archdiocese has taken since the installation of Archbishop O’Malley,” Gary Bergeron, a victim-survivor believes that “the Archdiocese of Boston is being given another opportunity” to emerge from the clergy abuse scandal with a renewed sense of awareness and resolve to prevent sexual abuse of minors.

"It's the spirit in which the settlement was achieved that is important to me," Bergeron said. "This is proof that positive things can come out of difficult situations."

Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer with the firm that represents nearly half of the alleged victims, also believes that the settlement will be instrumental in the healing process, and he gave Archbishop O’Malley “complete credit for bringing about this resolution.”

MacLeish further emphasized Archbishop O’Malley’s efforts, noting that he met with over 20 of his clients before the final settlement was agreed upon, and “every last person came away feeling his sense of compassion his sense of understanding.” He said that some of his clients are for the first time considering going back to Church, which he described as a “significant” step for victims.

"We have an incredible archbishop. This is a time of great hope for Catholics and non-Catholics alike in our community," MacLeish told The Pilot. "It's time to put aside the differences that have existed in the past, and the divisions, and to move forward, because I think that from the very start we have all had the same goals, which is the protection of children and improving the Church so that these horrible events of the past are never repeated."

News of the settlement was also welcomed by Catholics within the archdiocese who have witnessed the scandal unfold over the past two years.

"I'm very relieved that we're moving in the right direction -- that a just and equitable resolution has been reached," said Father Michael Randone, pastor of Sacred Hearts Church in Haverhill. "This settlement brings with it an acknowledgment on behalf of the archdiocese that these horrors did happen and that we are deeply and profoundly sorry."

Father Randone believes the settlement brings with it “a sense of hope.” “For too long we have been stuck in quicksand, going nowhere except in circles [due to the scandal], but now this is a new beginning which will allow the Church to move into the future.”

Ray Flynn, former Ambassador to the Vatican and former mayor of Boston, also praised the settlement agreement. “This resolution has been reached thanks to the leadership of Archbishop Seán O’Malley,” he declared.

Flynn believes the settlement offer will allow the Church to once again focus on “the core values of our faith” —to help those in need, to aid the poor and underprivileged, and to heal those who are in need of healing.

"I strongly believe in and support the services the Catholic Church provides," he said, "and I see that this is a time for faithful Catholics to come forward and contribute so that the Church can continue to provide for the poor and underprivileged in our society."

Citing Pope John Paul II’s invitation to “all Catholics to accept their civic and religious responsibility,” Flynn exhorted all Catholics to “put our shoulder to the wheel and continue the social mission of the Church.”

“If people have been disappointed with what’s been going on the in Church for the past 19 or so months, this is now an opportunity to once again become involved in our Church so it can move forward,” he said.

Meghan Dorney contributed to this story