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Settlement offered to additional abuse victims

By Christine Williams
Posted: 1/6/2006

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A new offer from the archdiocese would compensate victims abused by archdiocesan clergy between $5,000 to $200,000 based on an independent arbitrator’s finding on the severity of the abuse they suffered, said a Dec. 30 archdiocesan statement.

The arbitration process will be similar to the one employed in the 2003 settlement with over 550 clergy abuse victims. The award is expected to average $75,000 per victim.

Claims will be “arbitrated before a neutral arbitrator, without anyone other than the claimant or his or her representatives present,” the statement said.

Victims’ attorneys provided details of the program to the media in late December calling the offer “demeaning” and “offensive” because the average amount awarded to each alleged victim would be significantly less than the $155,000 median payment awarded in 2003 settlement.

Lawyers for some of the alleged victims voiced their objections to the program at a Jan. 3 press conference.

“It adds salt into the wounds of victims,” said attorney Michael Garabedian at the press conference. “This isn’t right. It’s not going to help the victims obtain any sort of closure, any source of peace.”

Thomas Hannigan Jr., an attorney for the archdiocese, said the offer of the arbitration program is not meant to “demean or re-victimize survivors of sexual abuse” but to resolve the allegations of abuse in a way that is “just and appropriate.”

“Because of our present financial condition the archdiocese cannot pay this later group of claimants at the same levels that were used in the global settlement,” he said.

The archdiocese sold the archbishop’s residence and other chancery property to pay for the 2003 settlement and has maintained that no money from church properties sold during reconfiguration will go toward settling abuse cases. Instead, the claims will be paid with “monies reserved from insurance settlements,” said Hannigan.

Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley has said that the archdiocese would provide full financial disclosure — including money paid to abuse victims — this spring.

Around 200 alleged victims have been assigned to one of three groups, based on available information, for purposes of the settlement program.

The first group of about 100 claimants will be offered arbitration to determine settlement amounts beginning in February.

The second group, of about 30, are those cases in which “the archdiocese does not presently have a sufficient basis to determine whether or not the sexual abuse likely occurred.”

In those cases, an independent arbitrator will be asked to determine if the abuse actually took place. The archdiocese has said it will abide by the arbitrator’s decision.

“Any survivor whom the arbitrator concludes was abused will be eligible to receive the same award as participants in the first group of arbitrated cases,” the statement said.

Some of those alleged victims may be subject to “limited” cross-examination by archdiocesan lawyers, Hannigan said.

None of the victims in the 2003 settlement were cross-examined.

“They may be cases where the dates don’t even coincide, where we know the priest was in a different jurisdiction at the time of the alleged conduct or this may be the first accusation against a priest,” he said.

Both Hannigan and the archdiocese denied allegations that victims would be required to face their abusers.

“In none of the arbitrations will the survivor be forced to face an accused priest, and no one other than those specifically selected by the claimant to provide support or testimony will be present,” the statement said.

The remaining 70 claims do not involve allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests of the archdiocese and will not be included in the arbitration process, Hannigan said. These claims include allegations involving employees of the archdiocese, non-diocesan clergy or victims who were not minors at the time the abuse occurred.

These claims will be settled on a case-by-case basis once the arbitration processes are complete.

Lawyers for the alleged victims have claimed that the archdiocese can and should offer more money to their clients.

Although any of the claimants can chose to “pursue their rights to litigation,” Hannigan hopes that they will take advantage of this offer, he said.

“There are many benefits to this program for people who are entitled to participate,” he said. “We do intend to waive liability defenses related to statute of limitations, charitable immunity and proving a case of negligence.”

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