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Boston archdiocese refuses to settle abuse case

Alleged victims' lawyer calls church leaders 'nothing but evil'

BOSTON (CNN) -- An attorney for 86 people suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston over allegations of sexual abuse by defrocked priest John Geoghan expressed outrage Saturday that the archdiocese had decided to pull out of a proposed settlement.

"What kind of example are they setting?" asked attorney Mitchell Garabedian. "They are purportedly the most moral institution in the world, but they're evil. They're nothing but evil."

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Garabedian said that, as late as Thursday, attorneys for the archdiocese told him that the church had enough money to pay the settlement, which he had previously indicated could be worth around $30 million.

But Friday, over the objections of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, the archdiocese's finance council decided not to approve the agreement because of its potential financial impact on the church.

In a written statement, the archdiocese said finance council members were concerned that the settlement "would consume substantially all of the resources of the archdiocese that can reasonably be made available" to help victims of clergy sexual abuse, leaving the archdiocese unable to "provide a just and proportional response" to other victims now coming forward.

"The plain and simple fact is that it is an evolving story," said David Smith, chancellor, or administrator, of the archdiocese. "We do not have in hand nearly enough information to determine the scope of the situation. We don't know who the victims are, we don't know who the alleged perpetrators are, we don't know the time lines. We do not know, therefore, what insurance moneys might be available."

"We don't know what might be just, and speculation about what it will take to settle this at this point is just irresponsible," Smith said.

Friday's decision by the 13-member finance council, made up primarily of lay people, marked the first time since Law became Boston's archbishop in 1994 that it refused to approve a request by Law, the statement said. Such consent is required by church rules.

Both Law and the archdiocese's attorney, Wilson Rogers Jr., urged approval of the settlement, arguing that the agreement was reached in good faith. Law expressed "deep regret" at the vote, the statement said.

"He lives with the painful truth that in this crisis, there are no easy answers," Smith said. "It's a matter of devising [a solution] that can be done within the limits and the resources of the church and without compromising the critical work that the church of Boston has to do."

In rejecting the settlement, the finance council urged Law to develop a system to provide counseling for victims and their families and to develop a "non-litigious global assistance fund" for victims.

"Such a fund is to be in an amount consistent with the resources that can be made available without crippling the ability of the archdiocese to fulfill its mission," the statement said.

Geoghan is currently in prison after receiving a sentence in January of up to 10 years for fondling a young boy, and he faces other child sexual abuse charges. Authorities believe Geoghan was a serial sexual offender over many years, with possibly as many as 200 victims.

Law's handling of the Geoghan case, and the case of another former priest, Paul Shanley, have prompted calls for Law's resignation from critics who charge he did not move quickly enough to remove the priests from their ministries, despite numerous allegations that they were abusing children. Law has refused.

-- CNN Correspondent Jason Carroll contributed to this story.




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