- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

A Washington law firm that demanded a year ago today the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington settle accounts relating to clergy sexual abuse hopes to file claims within the next few months on behalf of 20 victims.

But Kevin Baine, a lawyer with Williams & Connolly, the D.C. firm representing the archdiocese, questions the claims of lawyers for Greenberg-Traurig, which is representing the potential plaintiffs.

“So far, they’ve produced nothing relating to any priest of the archdiocese,” he said. “If they come forward with a series of demands, we will address them.”

Plus, “there is no evidence that any active priest of the archdiocese has ever been involved in sexual abuse,” he added, “and there are not at this point proceedings or negotiations relating to any claims of abuse” by archdiocesan priests.

Greenberg-Traurig, which represented 227 of the 541 victims who overall won an $85 million sexual-abuse settlement from the Boston Archdiocese in 2003, says it is still completing the legwork needed to demand a similar settlement from the Washington Archdiocese, possibly in the next few months.

“We’ve presented formal demands on behalf of only a few clients,” said Peter Gillon, the lead lawyer for Greenberg-Traurig in the case. “I just want to say that the investigation and development of these cases takes time, and we are proceeding deliberately.”

“We haven’t made big demands yet,” he added. “But when we do present our claims, they will be backed up by a lot of detailed histories and supporting evidence.”

The firm’s 20 clients are all in their mid-40s and 19 of them are men. The law firm said it is focusing on the victims of “a number” of former priests, at least 10 of whom have been convicted of sexual abuse in criminal courts or sanctioned by the archdiocese.

In November 2003, the archdiocese said 26 priests over a 56-year period had been credibly accused of abuse and $4.3 million was spent compensating 119 victims. Eighty-five percent of the abuse occurred before 1980.

Two months later, Greenberg-Traurig sent a letter to the archdiocese that claimed the church had “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.”

Since the letter, Mr. Gillon said, attorneys for the archdiocese have been “cooperative,” and that the archdiocese has been more willing to pay for professional counseling by therapists chosen by the victims instead of the church.

But Mr. Baine said Greenberg-Traurig has only made one demand this past year, which concerns two boys abused in the 1970s in Montgomery County by a seminarian, Wayland Brown, who later became a priest in Savannah, Ga. He was tried and convicted in 2003 of sexual abuse against the two boys.

The archdiocese, which covers the District and five Maryland counties, including Montgomery and Prince George’s, has benefited from state laws that require child sex-abuse victims to sue for civil damages before age 25.

“But many victims do not disclose abuse until their 30s or 40s,” said Ellen Mugman, former legislative chairman for the Maryland Council on Child Abuse and Neglect. “You limit significantly the number of victims who can sue the archdioceses of Washington and Maryland because the limits are so stringent.”

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