Chapter One: Introduction

On July 2, 2008, the Diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts settled its three-year-old court case with insurance carriers for $8.5 million dollars. Bishop McDonnell was not present at the press conference to announce the agreement, and has avoided discussing the matter since.
To promote a better understanding of the settlement, a timeline, articles from the Catholic Observer (newspaper of the Diocese), accounts of the court case from other media, and the court papers which underpin the reporting have been published at

This book-length treatment has four sections:
- introduction to the trial and summary of the issues (Chap. 1-4)

- the progress of the suit (Chap. 5-7)

- recent Diocesan history (Chap. 8-16)

- my commentary (Chap. 17-21)

It's clear in retrospect that the 46 claims settled in 2005 and the 59 settled in 2008 had a long and fitful journey. They were first mentioned at the parish level in hushed conversations with a select few church officials. For many years they were under the radar, but nevertheless worked their way steadily upward. The results of the hearings before the chancery-level misconduct commissions set up in the early 90's were decidedly mixed. They did not satisfy all claimants, for a variety of reasons.

By the early 2000's, many had the motivation to press lawsuits, and did so, following the lead established by the victims of the Boston abuse crisis, which broke in the spring of 2002. The key difference between the lawsuits of the 90's and those of the new millennium seems to be that, more and more, the Diocese was named as a defendant, in addition to, and sometimes even in place of, the accused church employee.
* Disclaimer: It should be noted that my 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. Other important sources are the invaluable, the Boston Globe, the New York Times, and the Berkshire Eagle.
**Fair Warning: This is largely industrial-strength church history. It is not light reading. The court sections are purposely redundant (because the thread of the argument can be easily lost), and Diocesan positions are complex. Partly, this is because the Diocese is a civil corporation as well as a canonical unit with pastoral duties.

I was moved to undertake this project after a letter from Catholic scholar David O'Brien appeared in the July 8, 2008 issue of the Berkshire Eagle. The letter can be viewed here. Mr. O'Brien called on local Catholics to quiz the lay leaders of such groups as the Diocesan Pastoral Council, asking them the "...hard questions that should constitute the agenda of Catholic deliberations in Western Massachusetts..." so that we can learn more about how the abuse was able to occur, and who should be held accountable.
While I agree with Mr. O'Brien, I think we first need to understand the lawsuit, particularly since it involved such a large sum of money, and such a wide span of time (1948-2008). Why did the suit happen, what issues were explored, and why was it settled, rather than heard by a jury? What positions did our lawyers take, how did the insurers respond, and what did the judge decide about the arguments presented?

Getting a handle on what happened was practically impossible for the average pew-sitter, since news about the case dribbled out only every six months or so over the three-year trial, only to disappear as quickly as it came.
It didn't help that there was no news about the case whatsoever in parish bulletins and from the local pulpits. Add to this the tone of the coverage in the Catholic Observer (the Diocesan newspaper), which tended to twist the facts reported by the mainstream media. Under these circumstances it was hard to resist suspicion of Diocesan intentions.
While the somewhat sensational topic of sexual abuse is certainly a grave offense, and key to the story, the court case was civil, not criminal. The trial was always more particularly about what sort of damages should be awarded to a plaintiff charging negligent supervision, how the negligence could be proved – and who should pay for those damages.

This aspect puts the 8.5 settlement squarely in the category of a governance issue, rather than a sexual one. The split settlement, in which both sides blinked, raises a simple question not easily answered – why, if each side was so confident of their positions, did they blink so hard?
Catholics seek the truth. They love it and are drawn to it. Even when the interests of civil and religious society seem most opposed, the hope and belief is that they can be reconciled without slighting the integrity of either one. I believe that the study of the court documents can help us along this path of reconciliation.


Court Papers and Articles

The court papers and articles are on the web site.
A direct link to the court papers is here.
A direct link to the articles is here.

The rulings by the judges (sometimes called Orders and Memorandum) are of high interest. These detailed 11-page rulings recapped the respective arguments, discussed their merits, and then laid down the law.

Court Papers for Hampden Superior Court Civil Action 2005-00602

Paper 50 (Diocesan Motion To Strike Appearance of Nixon Peabody), May 26, 2006
Paper 61 (Diocesan Motion To Extend Time To Respond To Discovery), July 17, 2006
Paper 62 (Decision and Order on Motion To Strike Appearance of Nixon Peabody), July 17, 2006
Paper 63 (Scheduling Order for Discovery), July 20, 2006
Paper 67 (Insurers Motion To Compel Production of Documents), Aug. 3, 2006
Paper 69 (Insurers' Statement of Anticipated Discovery Issues), Aug. 11, 2006
Paper 73 (Opposition To Insurers' Motion To Compel Discovery), Oct. 3, 2006
Paper 77 (Decision and Order on Insurers' Motion to Compel), Jan. 3, 2007
Paper 79 (Diocesan Status Report On Discovery Produced Under Court Order), Jan. 18, 2007
Paper 82 (Diocesan Motion To Permit Discovery Under a Protective Order), Jan. 24, 2007
Paper 83 (Insurers' Opposition To Diocesan Motion To Permit Discovery), Jan. 29, 2007
Paper 84 (Decision and Order After In Camera Review), Feb. 5, 2007
Paper 86 (Decision and Order on Motion of the Diocese for Protective Order), Feb. 13, 2007
Paper 89 (Appeals Court Order Affirming Orders of Jan. 3, and Feb. 13, 2007), March 20, 2007
Paper 93.A. (Claimants' Motion For a Status Conference), April 9, 2007
Paper 101 (Decision and Order On Insurers Motion For Protective Order, May 25, 2007
Paper 111 (Claimants' Motion Seeking to Force Mediation), Aug. 27, 2007
Paper 111.1 (Insurers' Response to Claimant's Motion For Mediation), Aug. 27, 2007

Catholic Observer Articles

1. Feb. 2, 2007: Diocese Offers All Its Abuse Documents to Insurers
2. Feb. 16, 2007: Diocesan Attorneys, Insurance Carriers Appeal Rulings
3. April 13, 2007: Diocese To Turn Over Documents In Insurance Case
4. May 23, 2008: Church History Missing in Burlington Verdict (editorial)
5. July 11, 2008: Diocese Settles With Insurance Carriers, Offers Arbitration
6. July 11, 2008: Another Step Forward (editorial)
7. July 11, 2008: Diocesan Attorney Answers Questions About Settlement

Other Articles

1. June 16, 2005: Diocese Takes Insurers To Court (Springfield Republican)
2. Dec. 3, 2006: Insurers Call For Church Records (Springfield Republican)
3. Jan. 11, 2007: Insurers Win Access To Church Documents (Springfield Republican)
4. Jan. 25, 2007: Diocese Documents In Dispute (Springfield Republican)
5. July 2, 2008: Insurers To Pay Diocese 8.5 Million (Springfield Republican)
6. July 3, 2008: Insurers To Pay 8.5m In Abuse Case (Boston Globe/AP)