BOSTON - The Boston Archdiocese agreed yesterday to pay $85 million to settle more than 500 lawsuits from people who say Roman Catholic priests abused them, the largest known payout by a U.S. diocese to settle molestation charges.
The deal, completed after months of negotiations, marks a major step toward quieting the crisis, which has torn at the fabric of America's fourth-largest archdiocese for nearly two years and spread throughout the country and beyond.
Under the agreement, victims will receive awards ranging from $80,000 to $300,000, lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose firm represents nearly half of them, said. Award amounts will be decided by a mediator, based on the type of molestation, the duration of the abuse and the injury suffered.
Parents who filed lawsuits saying their children were abused will receive $20,000.
"There's no way that you can possibly compensate people for what has been taken away from them," MacLeish said. "But this, for some, will be recognition by the archdiocese that terrible, horrific mistakes were made by church leadership, and this is a form of repentance by the church."
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, agreed. "For many victims, some kind of official, public acknowledgment that 'we were harmed' can be a real step toward healing," he said.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the deal "demonstrates that the church is committed to working out just settlements, which seek to meet, to the extent possible, the needs of people who have suffered terribly."
The pact comes about a month after the archdiocese put a $55 million offer on the table, leading to intensified talks among a small group of lawyers who were negotiating on behalf of 552 people who say they are abuse victims.
Many of the final details of the deal were worked out during a closed-door meeting Sunday night among lawyers - attended by Archbishop Sean O'Malley - that went into early Monday morning.
A resolution had been elusive since the scandal exploded in January of last year with the release of court documents in the case of the Rev. John Geoghan, whom church leaders moved from parish to parish despite evidence that he had molested children.
Allegations against dozens of other priests soon came to light, and hundreds of lawsuits were filed against the archdiocese.
Priest personnel files, made public because of the Boston lawsuits, held sordid and shocking allegations: that a priest pulled boys out of religious classes and raped them in a confessional; that another fathered two children and left the children's mother alone as she overdosed; that another seduced girls studying to become nuns by telling them he was "the second coming of Christ."
The crisis put every U.S. diocese under new scrutiny.
Because of molestation claims, at least 325 of America's 46,000 priests were removed from duty or resigned in the year after the Geoghan case. And Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as Boston archbishop in December because of his mishandling of abuse cases.