Tuesday, January 6, 2004

A Washington law firm that helped win an $85 million sex-abuse settlement from the Roman Catholic Church in Boston has told the Archdiocese of Washington that it represents at least 10 sexual-abuse victims for which the church must “accept responsibility.”

While the letter to the archdiocese from the firm Greenberg Traurig does not use the word “lawsuit” or make any direct threats, it demands that Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick meet with the abuse victims and discuss eight requested actions including paying for outside therapy for victims and the public naming of priests accused of abuse.

The letter tells the Washington Archdiocese that “our investigation to date reveals a history of abuse and negligent supervision comparable to that of Boston.”

The letter, distributed to reporters last night, tells church officials that several firm clients were victimized by a sex ring in a Prince George’s County parish over a 20-year period and presents the archdiocese with eight demands.

A spokeswoman for the Washington Archdiocese expressed inability to respond to the letter last night, saying it had not yet reached their offices.

Greenberg Traurig represented 227 of the 541 persons who settled claims with the Archdiocese of Boston in the past two years for $85 million.

The firm says it now is turning its sights toward “hundreds of victims of abuse” in the Washington Archdiocese. The letter was signed by attorneys Peter M. Gillon, Roderick MacLeish, Robert A. Sherman and Kate A. O’Donnell.

The archdiocese, the letter says, has “taken a path of denial and resistance” despite “credible allegations of a pattern of abuse in Washington and Maryland that is identical to the pattern we have encountered in Boston, Chicago and other locales.”

A network of child-molester priests, it says, operated out of a parish in Prince George’s County from the 1960s through the 1980s. “Dozens” of boys, it says, ages 8 to 16, were treated as “sexual servants” by priests.

Only one of the priests, identified as the Rev. Paul Lavin, was punished by the church.

Father Lavin, the pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in the District until 2002, was removed over accusations of sexual abuse in an incident 26 years ago involving an 8-year-old and a 16-year-old. He has denied the accusation and is appealing his removal from the archdiocese.

The law firm last night faxed the diocese the eight demands.

“One or two [victims] went and had meetings with subsidiary officials who listened, thanked them and that was it,” Mr. Gillon said in an interview last night. “There was no response. Others were offered — when they demanded it — therapy. One who requested psychiatric treatment was directed to a priest or a church-funded therapist who, at the end of the session, hit on him.

“These men want nothing to do with pastoral counseling by a priest. They want legitimate treatment by independent psychotherapists,” he said.

Other demands include the release of the names of priests connected with credible sexual-abuse accusations, criminal prosecution of those priests and official apologies to each victim.

The Washington Archdiocese, which covers the District and five Maryland counties, including Montgomery and Prince George’s, has emerged comparatively unscathed in the past two years while numerous other dioceses have been hit with thousands of sex-abuse charges.

In June 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops laid out guidelines for protecting children and mandated “audits” of all 194 dioceses on how they are implementing those guidelines.

The first of those audits, which was released yesterday, gave the Washington Archdiocese three commendations for adherence to the guidelines.

In November, the archdiocese said 26 of its priests had been credibly accused of sexual abuse in the past 56 years and that it had spent $4.3 million compensating the victims. However, most of the incidents occurred before 1980, it said, and the last known abuse occurred in 1990.

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