Lawyers Agree to Freeze Litigation in Shanley Lawsuits
By Theo Emery
Associated Press, carried in Boston.com [Boston MA]
May 29, 2003
BOSTON (AP) Two men who allege they were molested by one of the central figures in the clergy sex abuse scandal have agreed to suspend court proceedings for 30 days in their lawsuits against the Boston archdiocese, paving the way for a possible settlement.
Paul Busa and Gregory Ford have previously refused to participate in a broader moratorium on legal action in hundreds of other lawsuits against the archdiocese.
But their attorney, Roderick MacLeish Jr., said Thursday that they've agreed to put their lawsuits claiming abuse by the Rev. Paul Shanley on hold after Bishop Richard Lennon sought to extend a 90-day moratorium for another month.
Since the scandal erupted in Jan. 2002, the Ford and Busa cases have stoked outrage as the their lawyers pried loose thousands of internal church documents suggesting that archdiocese officials sought to cover up widespread abuse by dozens of priests.
Attorneys for both sides filed a motion Thursday asking Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney to approve the 30-day extension. If approved, it would halt litigation until June 27 on many abuse claims against the archdiocese.
The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said that most but not all of the dozens of lawyers involved in the lawsuits have agreed to the extension, which would allow the parties to concentrate on a settlement instead of fractious court proceedings.
"I think it shows a lot of good will on both sides of the issue," Coyne said. "Obviously we see a settlement as something that would be very beneficial to the victims, survivors and to all involved."
MacLeish said it remained to be seen whether the two cases could be settled.
"This has nothing to do with anything other than the bishop's request," he said. "We've had meetings and discussions (with the archdiocese), and those are ongoing. Whether those will be fruitful or not nobody knows."
The initial 90-day moratorium ended last week without a settlement offer from the church. But late in the week, Lennon serving as interim head of the archdiocese after Cardinal Bernard Law resigned in mid-December asked that lawyers continue the freeze for another 30 days.
A total of more than 500 people have made claims of clergy sexual abuse against the archdiocese. MacLeish's firm, Greenberg Traurig, represents about 150 alleged abuse victims out of about 400 that were covered by the moratorium. Ford and Busa had previously refused to halt their lawsuits, and legal action had continued in those cases.
It was not immediately clear how many attorneys had agreed to the extended moratorium, and how many total cases it would affect. Carmen Durso, an attorney with about 35 sexual abuse clients, said he had not been contacted by the church, and wanted to hear what happened at a meeting of abuse victims' attorneys on Friday before he decided.
"I want to hear what people have to say. I know there's a great diversity of opinion about this," he said.
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents about 100 people with claims, has not joined past moratoriums and will not be involved in this one.
"If the leaders of the Archdiocese wants to settle these cases, they should make an offer," he said.
Shanley, a one-time street preacher, is free on bail in Massachusetts after pleading innocent to 10 counts of child rape. He is accused of molesting young boys in the 1980s, when he was posted at St. Jean's Parish in Newton.
Prosecutors said Shanley would take the boys out of classes and rape or assault them in the rectory, the church bathroom or a confessional.
On Thursday, Ford's attorneys filed a deposition of Shanley taken last December. In the deposition, he gave his name and provided a few one-word responses, but otherwise refused to answer questions, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination almost 150 times.
In another deposition, Law's former office assistant, Kaye Woodward, said the archdiocese had a system for diverting mail sent to the Cardinal including letters with references to priest misconduct by stamping them "Not Acknowledged at Residence" and sending them to another department. She said that system was no longer in use.
On Friday, the archdiocese planned to release its final rules and regulations for protecting children from sexual abuse. The rules will be similar to the protections adopted last November by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Some reforms have been implemented, but Friday's announcement will represent the completion of the process, Coyne said earlier this week.
"This is basically laying out how it works here in Boston," he said.
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