Less than six weeks after becoming head of the Archdiocese of Boston, Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley, O.F.M., has made the largest financial settlement in U.S. church history with hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by Boston priests. The settlementfor up to $85 million, covering 552 lawsuitscame at the end of several days of intense negotiations in Boston among lawyers for both sides under a mediator, including a long evening session on Sept. 7, in which the archbishop personally participated.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys said the credibility of Archbishop O’Malley, who said the $85 million offer maxed out the archdiocese’s financial resources, played a major role in bringing the parties to an agreement. The Boston settlement surpassed the $31 million that victims of ex-priest Rudy Kos received from the Diocese of Dallas, Tex., in 1998 and the $25.7 million the Archdiocese of Louisville recently agreed to pay to settle 243 lawsuits.
Victims will receive $80,000 to $300,000 each. The amounts will be determined by a mediator and will depend on the severity of abuse and other factors. About 200 of the lawsuits involve claims of rape or sodomy. About 300 involve lesser forms of abuse, like fondling.
The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, said some of the funds for the settlement will come from the sale of surplus real estate and that the archdiocese will seek to recuperate part of this from insurance carriers. He said he did not know how the archdiocese, already in debt from previous settlements, would come up with the remainder. The archdiocese agreed to provide the entire amount before the end of the year.
Our actions say we admit our mistakes, we’ve learned from our mistakes, Father Coyne said. The archdiocese will do everything humanly possible to make sure that this never occurs again, he said. Obviously there is much more that needs to be done to bring about the healing and reconciliation necessary for the survivors of clergy sexual abuse. That is why the settlement also includes elements other than financial compensation, such as the continuance of the archdiocesan program to provide counseling to survivors of sexual abuse by clergy. The costs of counseling are in addition to the legal settlement.
Shortly after taking over in Boston, Archbishop O’Malley brought in a new lawyer, Thomas H. Hannigan Jr., to try to reach a quick settlement with victims. Hannigan had been the lead lawyer in the settlement with victims of ex-priest James Porter in the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., when Archbishop O’Malley was bishop of that diocese in the 1990’s.
Although negotiations took place behind closed doors, local media reports over the past month said that on Aug. 8 Archbishop O’Malley made an initial offer of $55 million, then came back with $65 million in response to the plaintiffs’ counteroffer of $90 million to $120 million. The $85 million was described as a final offer, with taking the cases to court as the only alternative.
In earlier stages of negotiations, some plaintiffs said they wanted to go to court anyway and did not plan to participate in the settlement. While there was no immediate indication of how many plaintiffs would participate, several lawyers involved in the negotiations said they expected that a majority would join within the 37 days stipulated by the agreement.
Originally the archdiocese said 95 percent of the plaintiffs would have to sign on for the out-of-court agreement to be finalized. In the end it agreed to make the deal even if the number of participants dropped to as low as 80 percent. The total amount of the settlement will be reduced proportionally, however, for each plaintiff who does not join the agreement.D.C. Voucher Plan Passes House, Moves Forward in Senate
The House of Representatives and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a school voucher initiative for the District of Columbia. The $10 million voucher program plan approved by the House on Sept. 5 will provide $7,500 to at least 1,300 low-income District of Columbia students to attend the school of their choice. On Sept. 4 the Senate Appropriations Committee, by a vote of 16 to 12, approved a $40 million plan that would provide vouchers of up to $7,500 for about 2,000 low-income D.C. students to attend private, charter or public schools.
Washington’s Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick has endorsed the bill for its three-pronged approachoffering $13 million for the scholarship program, $13 million for the charter schools and $13 million for public schools in the District of Columbia.
The legislation for D.C. vouchers does not open the door for federal approval of other voucher plans, according to William Davis, O.S.F.S., assistant secretary for Catholic schools and public policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Education. We won’t get the votes for other scholarship programs, he said.Omaha Archbishop Quits Boys and Girls Town Board
Archbishop Elden F. Curtiss of Omaha has resigned as the chairman of the board of Girls and Boys Town. A statement issued from Archbishop Curtiss’s office on Sept. 5 said the archdiocese will not assume the responsibility in the future of providing one of its priests for the traditional role of executive director...or any other ministry on the campus. All of the previous executive directors of Girls and Boys Town have been priests of the Archdiocese of Omaha, as is the current executive director, the Rev. Val Peter, 68. A statement from John Gillin, the new Girls and Boys Town board chairman, said Archbishop Curtiss had threatened in writing to resign from the board of trustees if a number of changes were not made in the bylaws. Gillin did not specify the changes in his statement, but said, in essence, the archbishop wanted to take virtually complete control of the board, significantly reducing the role and responsibility of other board members.Bishops Urge Constitutional Amendment to Protect Marriage
The administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for a constitutional amendment to protect the unique social and legal status of marriage. In Catholic belief, marriage is a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman, joined as husband and wife in an intimate partnership of life and love, the 47-bishop committee said in a statement released on Sept. 10.
What are called homosexual unions,’ because they do not express full human complementarity and because they are inherently nonprocreative, cannot be given the status of marriage, the committee said. It warned that the importance of marriage for children and for society is under attack in U.S. courts and legislatures and in popular culture and entertainment media, which often undermine or ignore the essential role of marriage and promote equivalence between marriage and homosexual relationships.
The administrative committeecomposed of the U.S.C.C.B.’s executive officers, elected committee chairmen and elected regional representativesis the highest policy and decision-making body of the bishops apart from the entire body when it meets twice a year in general assembly. The committee, which met in Washington, did not specify language for a federal marriage amendment.News Briefs
The Cuban bishops have criticized government repression of dissidents and asked for a national dialogue based on the hopes and realities of the people rather than on Marxist-Leninist ideology. A 14-page statement asked for clemency for the 75 dissidents who were given long prison sentences earlier this year and rebuked the government for executing three people after summary trials. The three had hijacked a boat in an effort to flee Cuba.
Weakness of faith was the root cause of the sexual abuse crisis in the U.S. church, said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in an interview on the Eternal Word Television Network on Sept. 5. The cardinal said priests share in the weakness of all human beings, and if their faith is just an idea or hypothesis rather than a deep personal friendship with the Lord, they may give in to their weaknesses. Cardinal Ratzinger said a lack of conviction of the clear moral teachings of the church in recent decades also contributed to the problem of sexual abuse by clergy.
Dissent is the major cause of the sexual abuse crisis, said Deal Hudson following a meeting between a group of Catholic lay and religious leaders and several U.S. bishops to discuss the crisis and church leadership. Dissent has loosened priests and laity alike from core beliefs including adherence to church teachings on human sexuality, he said. The group told the bishops that it weakens church leadership when bishops fail to define and defend the teaching of the church and when dissenters are given church leadership posts or church platforms for their views, Hudson said. One of the specific complaints concerned the appointment of Leon Panetta, former White House chief of staff under President Clinton, as a member of the National Review Board monitoring the bishops’ response to the sexual abuse crisis, in light of Panetta’s opposition to anti-abortion legislation.
Urging ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Msgr. Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s under secretary for relations with states, said trying to ensure peace by holding on to the threat of nuclear weapons cannot be the type of peace we seek for the 21st century.
Changing the discipline of clerical celibacy would not assure increased vocations in the Catholic Church, according to Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. His comments came in response to a letter of Aug. 16 signed by 163 priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.