Alleged priest abuse victims rip church over excess land

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Oliver Cromwell

Aug 28, 2002, 9:41:17 AM8/28/02

Alleged priest abuse victims rip church over excess land

by Jack Sullivan and Eric Convey
Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Clergy sex-abuse victims and their lawyers lambasted the Archdiocese of
Boston yesterday after learning officials are sitting on at least $160
million in excess property while backing out of a settlement agreement,
claiming it would cripple the church.

The backlash followed a Herald report yesterday detailing closed schools and
churches in the archdiocese that either lay empty or are rented out to
secular organizations and hundreds of acres of undeveloped land held by the
church in its 144 cities and towns.

John Sacco of Saugus, a victim of former priest John J. Geoghan who reached
an out-of-court settlement, said yesterday the Herald story provided proof
to suspicions he's held since he began mediating sessions years ago after
filing his claim.

``We were told they were broke,'' said Sacco. ``A lot of this property could
easily be turned over for housing for the homeless. Or how about a retreat
center for the victims of clergy abuse?''

After a three-month review of state, county and local land records, the
Herald tallied archdiocese-owned properties and found $159,393,996 in
shuttered schools, closed churches, prime real estate as well as other
buildings rented out to non-church entities.

Among the examples found by the Herald were the following:

a.. A $1.7 million building in Dorchester owned by the archdiocese and
leased to a spice company.

a.. A $6.7 million complex that housed a now-defunct school in Cambridge now
rented by the Massage Therapy Institute and a charter school.

a.. An oceanside home in Salisbury valued at $414,200.

a.. St. Ignatius in Newton, worth $2.8 million, owned by the archdiocese but
run by the Jesuits independent of the cardinal.
In May, archdiocesan officials abruptly backed out of a settlement agreement
with Geoghan victims, claiming the $15 million to $30 million deal would
force the church to close parishes and schools. Bernard Cardinal Law and
Chancellor David W. Smith said the settlement would have hampered the
ability of the archdiocese to settle with the estimated 400 remaining
alleged victims of sexually abusive priests.

Smith could not be reached for comment but a spokeswoman for the archdiocese
said the issue of who owns the property is ``much more complex than that
reported by the Boston Herald article.''

Donna Morrissey said many of the tenants of closed properties were public
and private schools and social service agencies.

``The church in Boston exists in the spheres of both civil and canon law,''
Morrissey said. ``While under civil law, the properties are listed as Roman
Catholic Archbishop of Boston, a corporate sole, under canon law local
parishes own the vast majority of the properties listed in the Boston
Herald. These properties, and parcels, are parish assets and revenue derived
from the rental or sale of those assets is used to sustain the parish
operations or capital needs.''

But a 1992 ruling in a suit against the Worcester bishop found the diocese
holds legal title to the church. Parishioners of St. Joseph's parish sued
then-Worcester Bishop Timothy Harrington, claiming they paid for and built
the church and Harrington had no power to order the parish closed.

But Superior Court Judge Charles M. Grabeau ruled because the deed was in
the name of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Worcester, Harrington was the sole
decision-maker and that St. Joseph's was not a recognized legal entity.

``As such, I find that plaintiffs have not shown any legal or equitable
interest in the property,'' Grabeau wrote in an opinion upheld in the
Appeals Court.

Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer representing 86 alleged Geoghan victims,
filed suit in May against Law and the archdiocese, asking a Suffolk Superior
Court judge to enforce the agreement as binding. The two sides have until
Friday to file their briefs with Judge Constance Sweeney.

Sweeney, like Grabeau, said during hearings last month that it appears that
civil law will trump canon law.

``The secular power of the Archdiocese of Boston, as a corporation sole,
resides exclusively in the hands of the archbishop himself, who happens to
be Cardinal Law,'' Sweeney said.

Carmen Durso, an attorney representing victims of cleric sexual abuse, said
claims by the archdiocese that they are not the owners is simply a ploy to
evade judgment.

``I don't believe there is any legal entity in any parish that owns any of
these properties,'' said Durso. ``For Smith to suggest that the properties
are owned by the parishes and the parishes have control over them, that's a
lot of crap.''

Garabedian said yesterday the Herald report cast doubt on the church's
assertions they could not afford the Geoghan settlement agreement.

``This information raises serious questions about Cardinal Law's and
Chancellor (David W.) Smith's claims that the church does not have the
resources to properly compensate victims who all claim they were grievously
harmed as children through intentional acts of individuals and negligent
acts of supervisors,'' said Garabedian, who represents the victims of
convicted pedophile John J. Geoghan.

``The existence of this information makes it very hard to believe that the
church leaders care about establishing or re-establishing a trusting
relationship with the victims,'' he said. ``Many of my clients are simply
upset about basic trust issues.'' The Rev. Robert Carr, a supporter of Law
and priest at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston's South End, said
selling even closed properties can be emotionally difficult for

Carr said there's a spiritual dimension to questions about church assets -
one that can raise awkward questions.

``Should we keep the buildings? Is that the just thing to do? Do we rely
more on Christ, on our faith? Or do we rely on what we have in our
property?'' he asked. ``That's going to be the bigger challenge: relying on

"...guarded by a tired cohort of Roman Heavy Infantry"

Oliver Cromwell

Aug 28, 2002, 10:42:34 AM8/28/02
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