Boston's Cardinal Law acknowledges pain of abuse victims, discusses backing out of settlement

Sunday, May 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ Cardinal Bernard Law on Sunday acknowledged the anguish caused by the archdiocese's withdrawal from a settlement with 86 alleged victims of sexual abuse and said he would seek an ``equitable solution.''

In a rare, detailed accounting of the church's legal affairs, Law explained that the archdiocese's Finance Council had rejected the agreement because of what he called a ``laudable'' concern about the growing number of victims and the church's diminishing resources.

He disclosed that the number of additional sexual abuse claims against priests and the archdiocese had grown from 30 to 150 in recent weeks.

``I trust you can understand the disappointment, the anger and even the sense of fresh betrayal which may be in the hearts of the 86 persons,'' Law told parishioners at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday.

``Nonetheless, I pray that, as time goes on, they may be willing to help in the framing of a wider settlement which can include the victims who have only recently come forward,'' he said.

The embattled cardinal did not apologize to the 86 Geoghan plaintiffs, all of whom signed the mediated settlement.

Outside the cathedral, demonstrators gathered at the door where Law exits and chased his car down the street, waving signs and chanting: ``First things first, pay the victims now.''

One parishioner, who would not give his name, confronted Law as the cardinal greeted people leaving the church. ``No real healing will take place ... as long as you are the archbishop here,'' the man said.

Law's hand-picked advisers on the archdiocese's Finance Council outraged victims' advocates Friday when they refused to approve a settlement worth an estimated $15 million to $30 million with 86 people who have accused former priest John Geoghan of sexual abuse.

Geoghan was convicted in January of fondling a boy and is serving a nine-to-10 year prison sentence.

Law said he had learned only Friday that the settlement with Geoghan's accusers, which he endorsed in March, had to be reviewed by the 15-member finance council, made up mainly of lay business people.

The council denied his request, the cardinal said, because ``the dramatic increase in the number of cases has substantially altered the situation.''

Plaintiff's attorney Mitchell Garabedian said he had told the archdiocese for years that the number of claims would escalate. During almost a year of negotiations, he said, the archdiocese's lawyers never mentioned that the settlement would be contingent upon the Finance Council's approval.

Garabedian said he would contact a judge Monday to set a court date to continue the litigation, including an immediate deposition of the cardinal.

Law, who has refused calls to resign over his handling of priests accused of sexual abuse, addressed this latest controversy Sunday as he launched his annual appeal to raise millions to help cover the archdiocese's day-to-day operating expenses and charitable mission.

Law told parishioners that the ``constant crisis'' will ``very likely have an effect'' on the amount raised for the church.

He has repeatedly said the money would not be used to cover settlements. Last year's appeal raised $16.1 million.

The archdiocese is considering mortgaging some of its real estate to raise the millions of dollars needed to settle with alleged victims, the archdiocese's chief financial officer, Chancellor David W. Smith, told the Boston Sunday Globe. He said it likely would take months to determine how much would be needed to pay the claims.

In developments elsewhere:

_The Archdiocese of Detroit said two more Catholic priests are leaving their parishes amid allegations of sexual misconduct. The archdiocese on Friday gave prosecutors internal records of about 51 priests, two deacons and a religious brother accused of sexual misconduct in the last 15 years.

_The New Orleans archbishop suspended a priest pending investigation of two sexual abuse allegations involving minors in an Austin, Texas, diocese in the 1980s.

_The Rev. John E. Leonard of Richmond, Va., said he is being placed on administrative leave while the diocese investigates allegations he engaged in improper sexual behavior more than two decades ago.

_In Indiana, the Evansville Roman Catholic Diocese acknowledged that it failed to tell authorities more than 20 years ago about allegations that two priests had sexual contact with minors.

_The Connecticut Department of Children and Families sent a letter Friday to Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin seeking information on seven complaints the archdiocese has received since January against priests. The archdiocese said it is determining if the complaints, which involve conduct dating back 40 years, are credible.

_The Rev. James A. Forsythe, a priest in Overland Park, Kan., served three months in prison for molesting a 15-year-old boy but has not registered as a sex offender as required in South Dakota, where he is now a Protestant minister in Rapid City, The Kansas City Star reported. Forsythe, 47, said he did not know he needed to register and plans to.

_An Ohio priest who admits fondling teen-age boys said he deluded himself into thinking he was acting out of love and concern for them, the Dayton Daily News reported. The Rev. G.R. Keith Albrecht, 56, said he had inappropriate relationships with four boys, the youngest age 16.