* Disclaimer: It should be noted that this whole series of reporting on the earlier years of the Springfield abuse crisis uses many quotes and other information from the dozens of newspaper accounts of the day. Due to the sheer volume of material I am not attributing each quote to its specific story, though I would be glad to supply the full citation to interested parties. I am indebted to the excellent reporting of the Springfield Republican and Union-News, and to reporters Bill Zajac and Stephanie Barry.
We left off covering the events of Feb. of 2002, with Bishop Dupre claiming that the Diocese had not faced a lawsuit in more than five years, and the Misconduct Commission reporting that in the previous three years there had been no claims substantial enough to turn over to law enforcement, and none were of a sexual nature.
As late as March 5, only one new call had come in.
And yet this period of calm was about to explode. By July there would be dozens of new complaints. By Feb. of 2003 the Diocese was riding a legal roller coaster, and by Feb. of 2004 the situation seemed apocalyptic. Bishop Dupre's resignation on Feb. 12 was certainly the greatest shock, but it was by no means the only one.
Let's look a little closer at the history that led up to the crisis of Feb., 2004, by which time there were around 50 people with complaints against the Diocese.
It's worth reviewing the creation of the Chicago commission in the early 90's, since Springfield's was modeled after it. Initially, there were high hopes for lay boards, as reported in early 1992 by Peter Steinfels in the New York Times:
"… critics note that the church's actions [in dealing with clerical abuse] have also been shaped by an emphasis on forgiveness, and especially by a desire to avoid public scandal -- a desire sometimes as strong among laity as clergy…factors like these are expected to lead the Chicago commission to recommend that some kind of independent board, including lay people and outside experts as well as priests, be established to receive accusations, immediately investigate them, report charges to civil authorities and remove the accused priest if warranted and provide therapy to victims and perpetrators."
The last sentence displays confidence – perhaps, overconfidence? – in the laity's ability to help, and in the clergy's willingness to let them. No doubt, the boards were created in all sincerity to get to the bottom of clerical abuse. But, along the road to reform there were many conflicting interests, as we shall see.
Even the name of the Springfield commission is a story in compromise. At first, it was the governmental-sounding Commission to Investigate Improper Conduct of Diocesan Personnel. Sometime before 2002, the name was changed to the Misconduct Commission. During 2003 or 2004 it changed again, to the Review Board. The emphasis changed as well.
At first it was mainly about clergy, as the original name suggested, although certainly therapy and other concerns for victims had a place. But, in recent years, the emphasis has been on victims, and on a vaguely expressed hope of "healing", across the board. No longer does anyone at diocesan headquarters seriously contend that it is an independent, transparent agency that effectively reports charges to the police.
Like the one in Chicago, the commission had 9 members. They were laity drawn largely from the social services professions. One member investigated a new claim. If it was found credible, the full board would review the complaint, hearing from the complainant, the accused person, witnesses, and consultants. After deliberation, the commission made a recommendation to the bishop. Substantiated allegations of law-breaking behavior would be reported to civil authorities, according to Marshall.
After a year or so, the commission had made 4 or 5 recommendations to Marshall for disciplining priests. But, citing privacy concerns, the commission was tight-lipped about details. Marshall, too, shared little with the press or parishioners.
He explained: "The commission finds itself in a difficult position…they are bound to confidentiality…I don't know the particulars of any testimony given to the commission. I do not attend the meetings and they do not reveal the testimony to me, nor do I ask questions of them. After they ponder a case and discuss it they make a recommendation to me. I…have carried them out."
Commission Chair Robert Van Wart saw the commission's role as listener and helper: "We're really there to listen, to show we are interested in them, if they are in need of assistance and to get as complete a story as we can get," he said. "We ask questions and try to be as sensitive to the individual as possible. It can be intimidating for some people, with a group of nine people listening. You can see how some people might not like it…."
Indeed, some did not like the process at all. Nor were those who approached the board always happy with the results. One of the victims commented in 1994: "They said they would get back to me, but I had to chase them down, nag them for any kind of answers…they promised me a face-to-face meeting with the accused, and they put so many stipulations that I was advised by my lawyer and law enforcement officials not to attend…I see people coming before the commission being minimized, discouraged, re-victimized and isolated from one another. I know they tried to isolate me…."
That same year, another victim said: "The members of the commission were very cold…they had no compassion. One of them had the nerve to ask me if it were at all possible that I was a willing participant in the act. I mean, I was only 11 at the time."
This victim said he learned from his lawyer of the commission's actions against the accused priest 11 months after he went before the commission. His lawyer learned of the priest's fate from a Union-News reporter. He didn't think that was right. A theme emerges from comparing articles documenting the work of the commission. Several victims learned the disposition of their cases from media inquiries or from accounts in newspapers - not from the commission itself.
But, if the commission was imperfect in practice, that was not the fault of it's formation, according to a prominent professional therapist, the Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti. He praised the idea: "It's a commission that has a great deal of authority who can investigate allegations independently and then go to the bishop with their findings and recommendations." At the time he spoke, Rossetti was employed at St. Luke Institute in Maryland, a treatment center for religious with behavioral problems.
Rossetti said that the structure of the Springfield commission could be used as a model for dioceses throughout the country because of the independent power bestowed on it by the bishop, though that power from the start seems to have been limited to investigating and making recommendations.
Rossetti is still at St. Luke's, and is now it's CEO. It is St. Luke's where retired Bishop Thomas Dupre underwent treatment beginning in 2004. It is not known if he is still in treatment there, but most news reports cite his address as "St. Luke's Institute".
Rossetti has written often about the priesthood, and about the complicated issue of dealing with homosexual priests. He has come under fire from conservative Catholics who accuse him of being soft on homosexuality. On the other hand, he's sometimes accused by victim's rights groups of focusing on symptoms, instead of addressing the structural problems that enable abuse.
The question of what to do, exactly, about priests who are credibly accused and clinically treated, and yet, who have no criminal record (because no charges were ever brought) is a vexing one. In April, 2002, Rossetti wrote in the magazine America that priests who've had therapy for sexual abuse are better off being put in limited ministry, rather than banished:
"…should any priest who has a past history of molesting a minor remain in the priesthood? Clearly, the public is saying no. And I think public pressure will have its way. Around the country, priests with a substantial allegation of child molestation are being dismissed from any form of ministry….But is this the safest course of action for children? When priests are dismissed from ministry, they go out into society unsupervised and perhaps even untreated. Then they are free to do as they please.
"If they have been convicted of a sexual crime against minors, they may have to be registered in compliance with various state or local laws. But… there are few criminal convictions against child sex abusers. Either the statute of limitations has run out, or the victim does not want a criminal trial, or there is simply insufficient evidence. Whatever the reason, when the church "defrocks" these priests, they are no longer supervised."
Rossetti makes a good argument for limited ministry, but the key word in his solution is "supervision". One could question whether the church provides – or, is even capable of providing – the necessary oversight. The evidence is not encouraging.
For example, in addition to Bishop Dupre, who has been accused by three individuals, the Springfield Diocese has witnessed 48 claims against Richard Lavigne, and 4 each against the Rev. John Koonz and Rev. Francis Lavelle. And yet, their whereabouts are unknown, and the Diocese have no information about these individuals on their web site. As many as a dozen credibly accused clerica are scattered about the Diocese with neither a program to go to, nor a supervior to report to, according to SNAP, a victims right group.
For another example, one of the early cases of the Springfield commission involved a supervision issue gone wrong. Charges were made against the Rev. Donald A. Desilets. After hearing the details, the commission recommended to Bishop Marshall that Desilets be granted early retirement, with restrictions on his ministry. He was allowed to retire to Montreal and join the Sulpican Fathers.
According to the superior of the order, Rev. Emillius Goulet, Desilets was soon living and working in the teaching community, which helps prepare young men for the priesthood. The superior would not comment on whether he had any contact with boys.
The victim in the Desilets case was dismayed with this arrangement. He didn't think it was right that Desilets could be put back into a teaching environment. He said: "I just see it as they have moved him again. That's just what the Catholic Church has been doing for so many years."
As a result of this disappointing experience, the victim was considering a lawsuit against the Diocese: "I had never any intentions of going public with this," he said. "My only intention was to get the priest out of the church so that he does not do this to anyone else. With therapy I can see what this has done to my life."
In the coming years, many other victims would come to this same conclusion – that in order to get meaningful results, a lawsuit was necessary. But, from the Diocesan point of view, a different solution to claims – settlement – was much to be preferred.
In March of 1994, the Diocese announced a settlement with 17 of Lavigne's victims. All were represented by Michael Wiggins of Boston. A Diocesan source said that the amount was "between 1.3 and 1.4 million", but according to a 2004 Diocesan report, the actual amount of the settlement was 1.7 million, and the year of the settlement was 1993.
In the announcement of March, 1994, Bishop Marshall denied that the diocese shared any blame. He said that the diocese wanted to settle because of the credible claims of the victims, and due to "a spirit of justice and charity."
He confirmed that insurance money from an unrestricted reserve account paid the settlement, but added that the reserve account could respond to the need "this one time." It is not clear if this was self-insurance, or if the claims were covered retroactively. After 1986, sexual abuse was treated as an exclusion on general liability policies carried by the Diocese.
Marshall addressed suspicions about diocesan officials: "A claim was made that diocesan representatives knew or should have known about Father Lavigne's misconduct and did nothing to prevent it. However, the bishops at the time and the priests, who lived with Father Lavigne, maintain adamantly that they knew nothing of such activity, any more than did the parents and families of the young persons who made the allegations."
Despite this statement, the Diocese later admitted that it had received credible complaints of a sexual nature against Lavigne in 1986. He was sent for evaluation and was considered "safe" – and soon returned to his parish in Shelburne Falls.
In our next installment, we will rejoin the action in the spring of 2002, as the Misconduct Commission descended from a period of relative calm into the maelstrom.
Previously, I said that spring of '02 was a period of relative calm for the Misconduct Commission. The complaints were few and far between, and when they came up, they were not sexual in nature.
But, by the fall, the board would be deep in controversy, with dozens of claims swirling around, many in a form Diocesan officials didn't particularly like – lawsuits. The pressure would only worsen. The year of 2003 was perhaps the worst in the history of the diocese – until 2004.
Looking back, a significant event occurred in July of '02 within the commission itself, when some new rules were implemented, at the insistence of Diocesan lawyers. But, before we look at that, we might ask why there were so many complaints so suddenly. What happened?
The quick answer might be "Boston", because news about hundreds of abuse claims against the Archdiocese was beginning to spread through the Commonwealth. Big black headlines were the rule throughout '02, starting with Cardinal Law's admission in January that problem priests had been reassigned to parishes, and culminating with his resignation in December.
But, there is much more to the increase in the commission's abuse caseload than proximity to Boston. In fact, the local problems had been building for some time. There are at least two factors.
One is the category of "special ministry", which was created when Dupre took over the Diocese in 1995. The other is a more gradual development, and is summed up by Bishop Maguire, who served 1977-1992. In March of '02, he described an evolution of the church's understanding of child sexual abuse by priests.
"At the beginning of this crisis, matters of this kind were looked at as a moral issue that needed to be resolved through penance. Then the next stage, we came to understand it was an illness and needed psychological treatment and help. Then we came to the realization that these issues needed to be dealt with as a criminal activity."
This narrative of a three-part evolution was probably intended as an explanation. And yet, it anticipates the accountability question, and leads to other questions: when was each level of understanding reached by management? Did the actions of officials match their understanding of the problem? And, if their actions were consistent with their understanding, how can that be proven?
To be sure, back in '02, many parishioners felt that the Diocese was on top of the crisis, and they often credited the Misconduct Commission. Both Marshall and Dupre insisted that they always followed the recommendations of the commission. This earned credibility in the eyes of the parishioners. For example, in March of 2002, Stephen J. Jablonski, an architect and parishioner at St. Michael's Cathedral in Springfield, said: "Our diocese is on the other side of this problem. We had our crisis and dealt with it effectively."
Obviously, he was referring to the Lavigne situation, when Marshall had taken the hard line. But, what Jablonski could not have known at the time was that the peak years for abuse were actually much earlier in time than anyone outside of the chancery suspected. When a long-awaited report by the Diocese on sexual abuse was released in Feb. of 2004, it showed the top decade to be 1965-1975, when Bishop Weldon was in charge. Presumably, this period may have corresponded to the first phase in Maguire's analysis, when abuse was still looked at as a moral failing. It is still not known to what extent confidential settlements were made during those years.
It's noteworthy that all of the abuse complaints heard by the commission from Jan. 1, 2002 to Aug. 11, 2003 were about occurrences at least 10 years previous, in other words, even before Lavigne was convicted. These were troubles long-buried but unresolved, and were now beginning to bubble up to the surface.
A closer look shows that Maguire, himself, had been in charge for 13 years when the Lavigne scandal erupted in 1991. Presumably, he could have known, and perhaps should have known, about some of the damage caused by Lavigne. Others did. For example, Retired state police Lt. Edward D. Harrington, part of the DA's investigative unit during the mid 70's, said later that a pattern of sexual abuse by Lavigne was common information among detectives and Diocesan officials during his investigation of the Danny Croteau murder.
Even discounting the 1970's, the insistence by the Diocese that the first complaint about Lavigne came forward in 1986 places Lavigne's problems well within Maguire's time frame.
By 2002, Dupre had been handling wayward priests for 7 years, having inherited the diocese in 1995. But, the true extent of his dealings did not emerge for years after the fact. We know now that one of the controversial things that Dupre did was to establish a re-entry system for priests in trouble. This was the so-called "limited ministry" or "special ministry" category.
In other words, priests with a sexual problem were removed from parish life, but not from ministry, receiving a special assignment away from parishioners. For example, after credible accusations in the early 90's, Fr. David Farland was removed by his superiors from a parish, and underwent treatment. He was then re-assigned as chaplin to the Fire Department of Springfield. For the next decade, he kept that post, without anyone in the Fire Department being informed of his history. Nor were the parishioners of the Diocese informed of his status.
In 2002, when the Dallas Norms mandated removal for credible accusations, he was dismissed from all ministry. However, this, too, was kept from the laity.
On March 8, 2006, after an inquiry from the Springfield Republican, the Diocese finally made an announcement that Farland had been removed from public ministry in 2002. Further details have not been released and his whereabouts are unknown.
But, Farland's assignment to the Fire Department was an exception, perhaps because he had worked with the department earlier in his ministry. Many of those removed from parish ministry found a safe haven much closer to hand – in the offices of the chancery.
The re-entry system via the chancery was created by Dupre – though, characteristically, he described the system as being urged on him by others, all of whom had professional credentials. Dupre said they were anxious to give the offending priests a second chance.
Apparently, this is how the chancery secretarial pool wound up with the likes of the Reverends Meehan, Kennedy, Wamsher, and Lavelle, all of whom were credibly accused of sexual abuse.
Meehan in particular is another example of how the system worked. After allegations, he was removed from full time ministry by Dupre in the early 90's and worked in chancery archives for the next ten years. When the Dallas Norms were approved in 2002, Meehan was one of the first to go. He was later laicized during the McDonnell administration (in June of 2006).
It is not entirely clear why Meehan's dismissal in 2002 was publicized by the Diocese, and not Farland's. We do know that a lawsuit against Meehan went forward and became public knowledge. We also know that the victim in the Farland case did not press charges, so there was no public announcement.
Meehan is believed to be one of the former priests of the diocese who still receive stipends and health benefits. The line item in the diocesan budget for "clergy on involuntary leave" has totaled $676,705 in the period 2003-2008.
Although Meehan and many others have been removed from public ministry, they have not been removed from the public. The Diocese does not keep tabs on their whereabouts –¬ nor are they required to, though there is newly proposed legislation to address reporting concerns.
In April, 2002, Dupre defended the record of the Diocese: "In a general fashion, the Diocese can respond that even before 1991, if a complaint of this type of misconduct was brought to the attention of the Diocese, it would be investigated and no priest who was the subject of such a substantiated charge would be permitted to remain in full parish ministry without the assurance of a competent mental health professional that it was appropriate to let him remain in the parish."
Dupre's statement raises questions because of his hypothetical language. Were in fact complaints brought forward, were they investigated, and were priests treated? If so, how many? Dupre doesn't say these things happened, and he doesn't say they didn't happen. And, this was his standard response over the next few years, despite ample opportunity to set the record straight. In this sense, the blanket of secrecy around priestly discipline may have worked against Dupre, and the Diocese, as much as it helped.
The comments are also an example of the hair-splitting legal language favored by Dupre. The phrase "…assurance of a competent mental health professional…" is neatly wedged between his responsibility for removing a priest and his responsibility for the priest's return.
Equally troubling is the use of the word "remain" with regard to ministry, for it strongly suggests that priests never left their parish posts, even while being treated. We now know that on at least a few occasions, the "leave of absence" or "sick leave" terminology was employed by Dupre and other bishops to excuse the situation to parishioners, without explaining it.
We said earlier that there was little for the commission to do in the spring. Yet, by late July, 2002, 34 cases had been reported for the year. By August, 2003, the count was 14 new suits against Lavigne and the Diocese, and 11 suits against other clerics.
One of the new suits against Lavigne named "higher-ups" for the first time.
Based on records found in Lavigne's personnel file, an attorney for the victim asserted that Auxiliary Bishop Dupre, in the period 1989-1991, "…is legally responsible…if he didn't know the abuse was going on, he should have known." This suit named four parties: Lavigne, Bishop Maguire, Bishop Dupre, and the Diocese.
This attack against the hierarchy, as opposed to the individual priests, was quickly countered. We next explore these, and take a look at the new legal strategy of the Misconduct Commission put into effect during July of 2002, as informal complaints began to solidify into lawsuits.
We've already seen that the role of the commission was ambitious. They were supposed to help the bishop, the victims, accused priests, district attorney, laity, and general public. In hindsight, there was probably no way that they could have done it all.
But, their role was also increasingly ambiguous. The commission was created in 1992 to provide recommendations for action to the bishop, with a decided emphasis on the "Improper Conduct of Diocesan Personnel". But, over time, there was more than a hint that its members saw themselves as a sort of Swiss Army knife, ready to dispense justice, therapy or recommendations, depending on what was requested.
The new rules for the commission in July '02 stemmed from a ferocious fight among law enforcement and dioceses throughout the Commonwealth. Influenced by the Boston abuse scandal, the DA's of each diocese wanted lists of victims, or accused priests, or both, in order to review potential charges. These requests were resisted by all four dioceses. Yet, one by one, they complied. Springfield was the last to capitulate, around March 14, 2002.
In this excerpt from the Union-News on March 5, Mr. Bell, the commission chairman, explains that commission members questioned the benefits of turning cases over to civil authorities:
…..Bell is concerned that victims of sexual abuse by priests may have reached closure from those incidents and that contacting them now would do more damage.
"Some people have gone on with their lives. This will open old wounds. I understand the DA's interest, but at some point there has to be closure," said Bell.
He added that victims have a strong voice in resolving complaints to the panel.
"A lot of the resolution of these cases depends on victims and what they are looking for. For some, it is a matter of having it acknowledged, and that can bring closure. . . . For others it may be punishment," said Bell.
Said local District Attorney David Angier: "I don't want to denigrate the church's efforts on this, but I think this DA's office is better equipped to deal with these issues of abuse. We want to be able to inform victims of their rights and what services are available to them and allow them to make informed decisions as to whether they would like to take any (legal) action."
It is interesting that Bell puts the concerns of the commission in moral terms – forgiveness, punishment, acknowledgement and closure. This range reflects the first stage of awareness mentioned by Bishop Maguire, in which sexual misconduct is viewed as a moral failing. But, Bell's remarks are entirely about the attitudes of victims toward their abusers. The accused priests are absent from this picture. And, the original mandate of the commission (making recommendations for action against the accused priests) is absent, as well.
His comments suggest that the commission placed a higher value on "closure" than on justice - or, at least, that they preferred the justice that was found within church walls to that found elsewhere. This "either/or" thinking - either a "church" or a "state" solution - is a hallmark of church reasoning. Mr. Bell's arguments are not subtle; they plainly suggest that the church would be better off closing ranks than cooperating with the authorities.
Nevertheless, the ranks were not closing in the summer of 2002, but rather, splitting apart under the pressure. Increasingly, lawyers were showing up at Misconduct Commission meetings. And, the complaints were turning into lawsuits more often.
In July, the chairman announced that if an accuser filed suit, that action would now preclude a meeting with the commission: "We will not discourage anyone from filing suit, but if they do, it will negate any service that the commission could be to them."
One of the victims who was not allowed to appear before the commission countered: "We want to see Lavigne defrocked, and we want to be able to tell our story to the commission."
But, on advice of counsel, the commission insisted that Diocesan lawyers be present any time the victims appeared with lawyers. Bell said that he wanted members of the lay commission to avoid situations in which they might be called to testify about what was said at their meetings.
Indeed, the opinion of Bell, and the legal opinion itself (which almost certainly came from Mr. Egan, lead counsel), was prescient on this point. In the 2008 settlement, former Misconduct Commission members were subjects of interest during depositions and insurance lawyers wanted to examine commission documents for discovery. Diocesan lawyers resisted. They even tried to claim "confessor-priest" privilege for commission documents, but were turned down by Judge Agostini's Jan. 3, 2007 decision.
The legal team of the Diocese became more and more involved with the commission as the suits mounted, and there are signs that this legal wrangling moved into a new phase.
Dupre referred to this new phase when he said in October, "These abuse claims are proceeding in another arena – the legal system. This is a choice made by the victims and we respect it." However, this respect did not slow him from trying to throw many suits out of court. By the spring of 2003 the effort was well underway.
The legal strategy took several paths. Broadly, the Diocese claimed "church autonomy" any time they wanted to prevent civil suits that sought to examine church records. "Freedom of religion", "separation of church and state", "ecclesiastical privilege", and "confessor-priest" defenses were also raised.
Bishop Dupre said "You don't hand out money to people just because they ask for it. There has to be some legitimacy to that claim." He called the motions to dismiss "…a legal thing…" and said that they did not "…affect our willingness to settle with anyone who has a legitimate claim."
Many of these arguments denied that state authoritites could pry into the bishop-priest working relationship. Though this question had already been decided in the Boston abuse cases, Judge Welnick of Hampden Superior Court agreed to reconsider it in Spring, 2003.
When seeking to dismiss a suit by a North Adams man against Lavigne, Maguire and Rev. Thrasher, Attorney Egan argued that the court would be violating the separation of church and state if it examined the relationship between Lavigne and his superiors:
"No court or jury can constitutionally decide what a reasonably prudent bishop should have done. There is always the proper and understandable request for…the deepest pockets that can be found. But it cannot be allowed to trump constitutional restraints."
Dupre initially sought to have this one case (the Shawn Dobbert case) dismissed, but the idea was for the dismissal to serve as precedent, so that all such "higher-up" suits that questioned the bishop-priest relationship could be thrown out.
To buttress his case, Egan had canon lawyer Rev. Daniel Foley testify under oath that the relationship of a priest to his bishop is substantially different than that of an employee to a secular employer. The effort to dismiss cases did not cease, but only increased throughout 2003.
In Sept. 2003, Dupre attempted to dismiss five more suits on the grounds that the charitable immunity laws before 1971 precluded suits against the church. It was this attempt that prompted the DeMontigny affidavit which contended that the highest levels of the diocese were aware of Lavigne's problems at a much earlier time than they had admitted.
The other significant thing that happened in September, 2003 was that Dupre and Stobierski agreed to consider mediation for a group of consolidated cases. This mediation finally came to fruition in August, 2004 (with the Diocese under McDonnell), but not without a riotous interlude in the spring of 2004.
In retrospect the Stobierski mediation was almost certain to end badly, because by the time a settlement was worked out, in August, cooperation between the Diocese and its insurers must have been near an all-time low. Still, the pressure for McDonnell to find some resolution to the growing caseload probably forced his hand.
Additionally, it was urgent to settle cases - any cases - after the resignation of Dupre, so as to turn a new page, at least metaphorically. These twin pressures are a likely cause of the great disparity between the settlement amounts. While the average amount of the 45 claims in the 2004 settlements was $168,478, the average amount of the 59 claims in 2008 was around $76,000.
Even the ground rules of the two settlements were vastly different. In 2004, each claim was to be settled for a minimum of $80,000, with no cap. In 2008, the minimum was lowered to $5,000, and a cap of $200,000 was in place.
The lawsuits about church autonomy and charitable immunity and so on were not resolved, and eventually all of them were put on hold. The new idea broached during the early months of McDonnell's administration was to declare a 45-day truce on litigation. This went into effect on around April 15 and ended June 1.
The sides drew ever closer to settlement. On July 22, the long-awaited settlement of the 46 claims consolidated under Stobierski was announced. Of these, only 22 had actually sued the diocese. The other complaints had been brought to the Misconduct Commission.
The resolution of the 46 has to be counted as a victory for the new McDonnell administration. One of the victims went so far as to praise McDonnell, saying that the new man had done in four months what Dupre was unable to do for several years. And yet, this still left many unresolved cases. In time, these would grow to the 59 claims which were finally settled in 2008.
But, back in late 2004 and early 2005, the groundwork was laid for the recent settlement by an interesting legal maneuver. The "tolling agreements", so-called, are an ingenious solution to litigation.
The Commonwealth has a three-year window for filing civil suits in cases of sexual abuse. A victim must come forward within three years of first realizing that their emotional problems stemmed from sexual abuse. Since the Boston Globe Spotlight Team articles had kicked off on Jan. 6, 2002 with "Church Allowed Abuse By Priest For Years", it was apparent to both Diocesan and victim lawyers that the three-year window would arguably close on Jan. 6, 2005.
This explains why there was a flurry of last-minute legal activity on Jan. 5, 2005. Attorney Stobierski filed six suits on that day. Attorney Durso filed several more. Four other complaints were made to the commission. But soon, the necessity of filing suits would be altered by the tolling agreements.
In early 2005, a Diocesan official confirmed the existence of an agreement that would allow the Diocese and the accusers to try to reach a financial settlement without the Diocese being named as a defendant in the suits. This worked to the advantage of chancery officials almost immediately, because they could truthfully claim, as they did in a press release on Jan. 7, that "...the Diocese was informed earlier this week by Atty. Stobierski of his intention to file these legal actions against individuals; the diocese was not included in these civil suits...". Almost certainly, the removal of the Diocesan name from the suits was an attractive argument for making the tolling agreements.
In return for these concessions, the Diocese would suspend the ticking clock of the statute of limitations, so that in the event that the negotiations collapsed, the victims would retain their right to sue.
The reimbursement of the 7.75 million paid out by the Diocese was still being resisted by the insurers of the Diocese some six months later. This, too, explains the tolling agreements. The Diocese was unwilling to go forward and settle the remaining 30 or so claims left hanging without first coming to terms with their insurers about the unpaid bill for the 7.75 million.
Thus, the tolling agreements helped the Diocese by keeping the pending claims at bay.
From the victims lawyers' perspective, the agreements assured a future payday. They also guaranteed that their clients would not lose any legal rights due to the lapsing of the statues of limitations.