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A Pause in Some Suits Involving Priests

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Times Staff Writer

The Boston Archdiocese and lawyers representing hundreds of alleged clerical abuse victims said Thursday they have agreed to a 90-day moratorium on litigation during which all sides can pursue settlement negotiations.

Father Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said in a statement that the parties will engage two mediators “in an attempt to settle some or all of these claims and adopt a mechanism to facilitate the resolution of the remaining claims.”

Coyne said the goal of the archdiocese was to avoid “the necessity of formal trials.”

Attorney Jeffrey Newman said his law firm, Greenberg Traurig, will take part in the 90-day stand down. Greenberg Traurig represents 270 alleged clerical abuse victims.

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“We will try to spend our time exchanging information, evaluating the cases, mediating them, trying to work out a settlement,” Newman said.

But Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney representing 108 men and women who say they were molested by 41 priests, said Thursday that he and his clients will not observe the moratorium.

“I’m always willing to discuss settlement with the defendants’ lawyers, but I will continue to litigate,” Garabedian said, adding, “Experience has shown me that these matters need to be litigated.”

Late last spring, after two years of negotiations with the Roman Catholic Church, Garabedian accepted an offer of $20 million to $30 million for 86 alleged victims of Father John Geoghan, whose conviction in January 2002 on child molestation charges helped spark a worldwide clerical abuse crisis. But the church backed out of the agreement, and Garabedian later accepted an $8-million to $10-million settlement for the same group of alleged victims.

“My clients simply do not trust the Archdiocese of Boston,” Garabedian said.

A similar agreement reached several months ago to suspend action on lawsuits against the archdiocese ended in a stalemate after 40 days.

The latest request for a “stand-down,” filed Thursday, must meet court approval.

One day earlier, the archdiocese suffered a setback when the judge overseeing most of the sex abuse claims ruled against the church’s claim that the lawsuits should be thrown out because they violated the 1st Amendment doctrine of separation of church and state.

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Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney blasted holes in the church’s “sweeping autonomy” argument. Recognizing that premise, Sweeney ruled, would allow the church to “exercise all the rights and privileges the secular law affords, yet not be burdened by any of the essential civil laws that protect the safety of all members of society, particularly children.”

More than 500 men and women have filed claims against the Boston Archdiocese.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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