Settlement threshold met, arbitration begins

BOSTON — The Archdiocese of Boston announced Oct. 20, three days before the settlement deadline, that over 80 percent of the 552 plaintiffs involved in clergy sexual abuse lawsuits had opted into the $85 million settlement, thereby meeting the percentage required for the settlement to take effect.

Victims’ attorneys said they had reached the required 80 percent as early as Oct. 16, however, Father Christopher Coyne, spokesperson for the archdiocese, called such statements premature. Four days later on Oct. 20, Attorney Thomas Hannigan Jr., lead counsel for the archdiocese, informed them that he had received the necessary number of signed settlement agreements.

Archbishop Seán O’Malley, who was in Rome attending the beatification of Mother Teresa at the time, said in a statement that he was “pleased to learn that more than 80 percent of the plaintiffs” had signed on. He was hopeful that more victims would “agree to enter the process” before the Oct. 23 deadline.

Lawyers who represent the victims said they expected between 90 and 98 percent to sign on by the deadline.

"Now the work of the arbitrators can begin and progress can be made in bringing to conclusion the legal aspects of the cases of a great number of survivors," stated Archbishop O'Malley.

The first sessions of the two-month arbitration process were held Oct. 21. During arbitration, outside mediators listen to victims tell their stories of sexual abuse to determine the dollar amount compensation to each victim. Awards will range from $80,000 to $300,000 depending upon the type, duration and severity of abuse.

The agreement between the victims and the Archdiocese of Boston calls for non-confrontational arbitration sessions, where each victim, accompanied by his or her attorney, will be asked to describe the circumstances of their abuse.

Lead arbitrator Paul Finn has appointed 15 other arbitrators to preside over the hearings. Once the sessions are completed in mid-December, all the arbitrators will meet to discuss their recommendations for individual awards.

According to Attorney Carmen Durso, whose represents 39 victims, the amounts could then be adjusted upward or downward, depending on whether there are large disparities in similar cases heard by different arbitrators.

"There's no simple formulaic way of looking at this. What you have to look at are the kinds of acts, the number of times they occurred, the relationship of the parties, how it affected the person's life, and how badly damaged they are as a result of what happened to them," Durso said.

Once arbitration has concluded, the archdiocese plans to mail settlement payments to victims by the end of the year.

The Pilot staff and wire service reports contributed to this story.