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Lawyers Livid Over Nixed Church Deal

Attorneys promised renewed legal action against the Archdiocese of Boston on Saturday after the church backed out of a multimillion-dollar settlement with alleged victims of a pedophile priest.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who negotiated the $15 million to $30 million settlement for 86 clients, said he will ask a judge Monday to approve the swift deposition of Cardinal Bernard Law, which was delayed when the settlement was agreed to in March. He said he also would ask the judge to restrain Law from leaving the country.

Garabedian said he is considering suing the church for breach of contract.

"We're back on track. We're going to try these cases," Garabedian said Saturday. "I'm going to make the public aware of how much decay there is in this church."

The archdiocese had no comment Saturday; Law was expected to preside at Mass on Sunday as scheduled.

The archdiocese outraged alleged victims of abuse Friday by rejecting the 2-month-old settlement agreement that would have distributed up to $30 million to alleged victims of defrocked priest John Geoghan.

The Finance Council, a council of lay business people which must review any archdiocese expenditure of more than $1 million, said the agreement would cause grave financial damage and inhibit the church's ability "to provide a just and proportional response to other victims."

"This is a disgrace. Are these people inhuman?," asked Garabedian. He called the decision a "revictimization" of his clients.

Law had encouraged the Finance Council to endorse the settlement, according to a spokeswoman.

The archdiocese's actions won't make the existing claimants happy, says Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen.

"What the church is telling these people is, 'We're not going to pay what you've asked us to pay right now. Go ahead and sue us if you want. It may take years for you to collect if you win. But we're thinking that we may be in better shape at the end of the litigation than we're in right now,' " Cohen explains. And the Church for decades has been known for its aggressive pre-trial tactics, Cohen adds.

These moves make sense legally and financially for the Church since it knows there are potential plaintiffs out there and it has a responsibility to prepare for the chance of future payments stemming from future lawsuits, Cohen says.

Part of this is pre-lawsuit posturing but part of it reflects an unfortunate reality for the Church, said Cohen. It knows that there is this initial group of claimants but it also suspects there may be many more groups out there and so it's trying to hoard its resources as best it can, not just for this looming fight but for the next one down the road.

The archdiocese has already paid an estimated $15 million to 40 alleged Geoghan victims since the mid-1990s and faces dozens more claims and hundreds of new allegations against him and other priests. More than 450 people have filed suit since the scandal broke in January.

The settlement's collapse prompted other attorneys of alleged victims to explore broadening civil charges against the church and challenge the state's "charitable immunity" statute, which can limit plaintiff awards to $20,000 if cases go to trial.

Plaintiffs said Saturday that the church was penalizing them for its own negligence.

"It's their fault they have a huge influx of victims, not mine," said Mark Keane, of New Hampshire. "They just care about their own well-being, their own financial standing."

Garabedian said he will ask the judge in the case on Monday to set a date for Law's deposition, and to require the cardinal to post a $10 million bond that would be forfeited if he left the country.

While a court rejected a similar request from another attorney Friday, Garabedian said he can now prove Law is not trustworthy because of the settlement's collapse.

Geoghan was convicted in January of molesting a 10-year-old boy and is serving a 9- to 10-year prison sentence. Records showed church officials knew he had been accused of abuse but kept moving him from parish to parish.

In other developments:

  • The Archdiocese of Detroit has given prosecutors internal records concerning 51 priests, two deacons and a religious brother accused of sexual misconduct in the last 15 years.

    The number is three times higher than the archdiocese had disclosed previously, the Detroit Free Press reported Saturday.

    Prosecutors said some of the clergymen faced multiple complaints. In five cases, the church made confidential settlements with accusers, the newspaper reported.

    Archdiocese spokesman Ned McGrath said the new total includes 15 clergy who were dead when allegations were made, 12 who belonged to religious orders or other dioceses, and those named in allegations since mid-April.

  • The Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., banned a retired priest from performing any church services after a teen-age boy accused him of sexual misconduct.

    The 17-year-old, who was hired to clean the priest's residence, was "never molested or violated in any way," a diocese news release said Friday. However, Port St. Lucie Police are investigating.

    About three years ago, the priest was forced to retire as an associate pastor in Lake Worth for an "inappropriate relationship" with a man, the diocese said.

  • At a time when some Catholic leaders are calling for a "one-strike" policy, a priest is still serving the church even though he twice faced criminal charges. A former Dallas priest, the Rev. Norman Rogge pleaded no contest in 1985 to lewd and lascivious conduct in the presence of a child, and in 1967 pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

    Rogge, 77, is now working at a Jesuit retirement home in New Orleans. He told The Dallas Morning News that all the charges against him were "incorrect" but would not elaborate.

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