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Roman Catholic Priests Addressing Sex Abuse Scandals

Aired May 5, 2002 - 11:33   ET


JONATHAN KARL, CNN ANCHOR: At this hour in the churches and cathedrals around the nation, Roman Catholic priests are celebrating mass. Many are addressing the continuing sex abuse scandals rocking the church. The focus of the scandal is Boston. We get an update on what's being said there this morning from CNN's Jason Carroll. Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good morning to you. Cardinal Law has never spoken publicly directly to the press about the church crisis here in Boston. What he does is he normally speaks through the pulpit, and this morning that was no exception.

He began mass by explaining the reason why the Archdiocese of Boston backed out of a civil settlement reached with 86 plaintiffs who say they were molested by defrocked priest John Geoghan. That settlement would have cost the church up to $30 million.

Law said this morning that he needed the approval of the Archdiocesan Finance Council in order to pay the Geoghan settlement. Up until a month ago, he says in addition to the 86 plaintiffs, they thought that there were 30 more additional plaintiffs that are still out there.

But in recent weeks, they have learned that the number of additional claims has grown from 30 to 150, and Law says with that many outstanding claims still out there, he says there was no way the church could agree to pay the settlement that they had initially agreed to.


CARDINAL BERNARD LAW, ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON: The Finance Council, which is composed mostly of laypersons, all but one are laypersons, refused my request for authorization to proceed with the settlement. It was their judgment that the dramatic increase in the number of cases has substantially altered the situation.

Their concern and I think it is a laudable concern, is that justice and equity would not be served by agreeing to this settlement for 86 persons, which would thereby negatively affect the response which the archdiocese can later make to the other victims.


CARROLL: Law says that there is a possibility of setting up some sort of a non-litigious mechanism which can take into account all of the victims as well as church finances, but he also says that there are no easy answers. They're responding the best way they can.

Very quickly, Jonathan, I want you to take a look behind me. You can see there are a number of protesters that have gathered out here in front of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. It's a small number of protesters but typically Bostonians have not been voicing their protests by showing up here at church. They've been doing it through their pocketbooks. We're going to have to wait and see if the cardinal's words today have any effect on them. Jonathan.

KARL: All right, Jason, you'll be following the story for us. Thanks a lot. Abuse allegations in the Catholic Church are just one of the legal issues facing the public this week. Two others involve tawdry murder cases involving celebrities Robert Blake and Michael Skakel. That's plenty to chew on for our legal analyst this morning Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, let's get right to this Cardinal Law's statement, which caught me by surprise today, 150 new cases?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's just such an extraordinary series of problems because just remember, these are the cases that come out of the Father Geoghan case, who was convicted of abuse a couple of months ago.

This same week, last week, Father Shanley was arrested in San Diego based on his abuse allegations back home in Massachusetts. There's an entirely separate civil litigation coming out of that. That's the case where Law himself is supposed to give a deposition where there are equally great civil damage possibilities.

So here they are, they're saying they can't afford to settle the Geoghan case, but they haven't even begun to settle the Shanley case. It's a real mess.

KARL: And he's saying 150 claims and most of those just in the last couple of weeks, people coming forward. But those are all with Geoghan?

TOOBIN: All with Geoghan and we're only talking about two priests here. There are in the broader Archdiocese of Boston, there are several more priests who are under investigation. The financial implications of this for the archdiocese are simply staggering and it's clear after the end of this settlement, that they don't even know how they're even going to begin to address this.

KARL: Now he talked about a phrase I never heard before but you're the lawyer, a global non-litigious mechanism. What's he talking about?

TOOBIN: Non-litigious, which is the key word there, what that means is working out a settlement outside the courtroom, not having litigation. Non-litigious, what that means is getting away from juries who have punished Catholic archdioceses repeatedly. I mean there have been $20 million verdicts for single plaintiffs for single priests. What he means by non-litigious is working it out so that the decision is not in the hands of juries. Obviously plaintiffs and plaintiff's lawyers, who get a third of recoveries recently, are not going to be extremely -- are not going to be very anxious to make a deal like that when juries are so exercised about this.

KARL: Yes, and if you have this many cases, I mean I can't imagine that you're going to be able to keep all these people out of court.

TOOBIN: And what today's announcement was about was what a moving target the number of victims is. I mean it's one thing to try to work out a settlement with 86 people, as they had done until Friday. But here, they thought they had 30 more. Now it turns out to be 150 more.

But I mean a week from now how many will it be? It's a -

KARL: How much time does the church have on this? I mean when do we start seeing some of these cases if they're not settled to get before juries?

TOOBIN: Well, I think one deadline to keep in mind is in the first in June currently, that's when Law is scheduled to give a deposition. The archdiocese lawyer and Law himself will be very anxious to avoid that because Law has never yet answered questions under oath about that, extremely embarrassing potential.

Even there is the potential and it's being talked a lot about in Boston now whether Law himself will be under criminal investigation for aiding and abetting the sexual abuse by transferring priests around without warning the parishes.

So he's got real reasons to avoid wanting to give that deposition. I think that will be a deadline. That's in the Shanley case.

KARL: Yes.

TOOBIN: He'll want to try to settle that case before that happens, but I don't know if the money's there.

KARL: Well, the Catholic Church does have some resources around the world.

TOOBIN: It does.

KARL: Well, Jeffrey Toobin thanks a lot. We wanted to talk about other subjects, but I think there's plenty to talk about with the Catholic Church right now.

TOOBIN: I have a feeling Skakel and Blake will not suffer for lack of attention.

KARL: Thanks a lot.




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