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Plaintiffs, archdiocese in priest abuse cases seek settlement
By Greg Sukiennik, Associated Press, 06/19/02
The development means a deposition of Cardinal Bernard Law, scheduled for Thursday, has been indefinitely postponed, attorney Roderick MacLeish said.
He said the agreement covers about 125 of his clients, as well as clients represented by attorneys Jeffrey Newman, Robert Sherman and Carmen D'Urso.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey confirmed that the deposition of Law would not take place and that the two sides will enter "preliminary discussions concerning the settlement of claims."
Other depositions and similar discovery will be postponed for at least 30 days while the lawyers and the archdiocese attempt to set a framework for a settlement, MacLeish said. He said Newman proposed the 30-day period.
"All of us feel sufficiently encouraged that we made the decision not to go forward with the deposition," MacLeish said.
Newman, after raising the possibility with other lawyers, met with archdiocese attorneys late last week and early this week. He said he found "a willingness on both sides to exchange information."
"I noticed after several hours into the first meeting both sides were not posturing their case or threatening each other," Newman said. "They were talking about substantial information which required cold analysis without emotion -- the normal things one does in heavy-duty litigation."
MacLeish and Newman did not characterize what they wanted out of a settlement or a potential dollar figure, saying the settlement would not be negotiated in the media.
Earlier this year, 86 plaintiffs suing the archdiocese over its handling of defrocked priest John Geoghan continued their lawsuit when it backed out of a settlement reported to be valued at up to $30 million.
The attorney in the Geoghan lawsuit, Mitchell Garabedian, said Wednesday he had not been made aware of plans to initiate settlement talks until he was told by a reporter.
"I am getting ready for July 31 evidentiary hearings with regard to the 86 Geoghan cases," he said. "I have not been notified by the other plaintiffs' counsel as to this plan."
Newman said he did not contact Garabedian because he did not want to pressure him into joining the talks.
"The door is open for him to join immediately," he said. "I decided to leave it up to him. He has done a wonderful job for his clients and what he has done to reveal information cannot be discounted."
The unraveling of the Geoghan settlement is not necessarily an indication of what will happen in any new settlement talks, MacLeish said.
"There are no guarantees on either side," he said. "We have a fresh perspective and we're going into this feeling hopeful and optimistic."
The announcement of preliminary talks came less than a week after Law returned from a national bishops conference in Dallas, at which the bishops endorsed a policy that would remove all child-molesting priests from church work but not necessarily from the priesthood.
The scandal in the nation's Roman Catholic Church began earlier this year in Boston when court documents showed the archdiocese had moved priests from parish to parish despite allegations they had molested youngsters.
Any new settlement talks will not affect a case now before the state Appeals Court on the release of transcripts and videotapes of depositions of Law and Manchester, N.H., Bishop John McCormack, MacLeish said.
New talks would affect the case of the Rev. Paul Shanley. Shanley's alleged victims say the archdiocese reassigned him despite allegations of sexual abuse dating to the 1960s, and his public support for sex between men and boys.
Rodney Ford, the father of Gregory Ford, an alleged Shanley victim, supports the talks and hopes they are a sign the archdiocese will do more to reach out to victims. But he's also aware of what happened to the Geoghan settlement, which was scuttled at the last minute when the archdiocese finance committee wouldn't approve it.
"I think 30 days in the scheme of things is a short period of time," Ford said. "But we're prepared to go forward if in fact the archdiocese is not sincere about this, if it's just window dressing."
Shanley, who was arrested in San Diego in May, has been charged with raping a Massachusetts boy over a six-year period in the 1980s. He has pleaded innocent.
Newman, who did not have a complete list of all the priests whose cases are involved in the proposed settlement talks, said they include the late Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham, who died in 1989 and allegedly abused 26 people; the Rev. Ronald H. Paquin, who is being held on $500,000 bail on charges of child rape; and priests Paul J. Mahan, Paul M. Desilets, John R. Hanlon, Richard O. Matte, Bernard J. Lane and Ernest E. Tourigney.