Bishop Richard G. Lennon, the interim head of the Boston archdiocese, announced today that he asked church lawyers to request a halt to day-to-day litigation -- with the exception of court-ordered activities -- so that they can pursue the possibility of settling all clergy sexual abuse cases at once.
In his first news conference since Cardinal Bernard F. Law resigned as archbishop last week, Lennon said the archdiocese may be able to resolve hundreds of lawsuits with insurance money and through the sale of some church-owned real estate. The sale of individual parish properties, however, is not "envisioned," he said, while the possibility of the archdiocese filing for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 remains an option, subject to Vatican approval. The cost of a universal settlement has been estimated at more than $100 million.
"I will support efforts to arrive at a settlement of claims as soon as possible which will be fair and equitable for all the victims of clergy sexual abuse," Lennon said. The "bankruptcy option is still on the table being discussed in the archdiocese, along with a mediated settlement. . . . No final decision has been made on what route to proceed."
Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney representing victims, said he does not intend to consent to the church's request during settlement talks. He also said he plans to file about 60 additional lawsuits within the next month alleging abuse by 15 priests.
"Past experiences have shown me that stopping litigation with the archdiocese is pointless. It has only been used as a delay tactic," said Garabedian, who previously negotiated a $10 million settlement with the archdiocese for 86 victims of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, a convicted pedophile.
He said Lennon had been familiar with some cases of pedophile priests and did not alert police.
Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose firm represents more than 250 alleged victims, said he did not want to suspend his litigation but he wants to give Lennon a chance. He said nothing in his review of church documents suggested any sign of wrongdoing by Lennon.
Lennon's announcement comes at a time when the Boston archdiocese is trying to regroup after 11 months of revelations that church officials endangered children for years by knowingly assigning abusive priests into parishes. Pope John Paul II accepted Law's resignation last Friday in Rome and named Lennon as apostolic administrator for an undetermined period of time.
It now apparently is left to Lennon, the archdiocese's youngest bishop at 55, to confront the church's financial, legal and spiritual crisis in this heavily Roman Catholic city. After celebrating Mass on Sunday at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, where Law typically presided, Lennon spent the past few days meeting with chancery employees and archdiocesan administrators.
He met with reporters today in Brighton at St. John's Seminary, where he served as president and rector since 1999 and currently resides.
Prefacing his televised remarks by saying he still has "much to learn," Lennon offered an overview of his goals in a thick Boston accent while seated at a makeshift lectern flanked by poinsettias.
As teacher, priest and pastoral leader, he said his priorities are to support survivors of priest abuse, protect children and prevent further abuse, and to foster unity among parishioners and clergy within the archdiocese. Lennon also said he would speak with any victims who request a meeting.
"Respectfully listening to them, I hope to learn and appreciate the depth of their suffering. I will, in turn, extend to each of them my apology on behalf of the church for the abuse which they have suffered," he said.
Responding to reporters' questions, he said he would encourage and endorse the continued expansion of laity participation within the church, although he did not specify the acceptable parameters of that involvement. He did say he would look forward to ongoing discussions with Voice of the Faithful, a lay reform group.
Lennon confirmed that Catholic Charities, a social service agency and arm of the archdiocese, accepted a $56,000 donation from Voice of the Faithful, even though Law had banned the archdiocese from accepting the group's donations. Voice of the Faithful had offered the money to the archdiocese months ago on the condition that it not be used for administrative costs, but it was rejected.
The group plans to offer another donation to the archdiocese in January that is expected to total more than $20,000, spokesman Mike Emerton said. Lennon said Law's directive remains in place, however, pending further discussions with the group.