May 6, 2002

BOSTON (AP) - Faced with hundreds of potential litigants, Boston's Roman Catholic archdiocese is contemplating mortgaging or even selling its headquarters to pay the rising toll of its priest abuse scandal.

Lawyers and alleged victims have called on the archdiocese to sell or mortgage the property since it backed out of a settlement with 86 plaintiffs in a civil suit against defrocked priest John Geoghan.

The archdiocese's Finance Council on Friday rejected the settlement because of a concern about the growing number of victims and the church's diminishing resources. The deal would have paid plaintiffs between $15 million and $30 million.

Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday, told parishioners that the number of additional sexual abuse claims against priests and the archdiocese has grown to 150. Hundreds more have contacted attorneys.

Law, whose car was chased out of the church parking lot by angry protesters after Mass, said he would seek to reach an ``equitable solution'' in coming weeks.

``I trust you can understand the disappointment, the anger and even the sense of fresh betrayal which may be in the hearts of the 86 persons,'' Law told parishioners. ``Nonetheless, I pray that as time goes on, they may be willing to help in the framing of a wider settlement which can include the victims who have only recently come forward.''

Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer for the 86 plaintiffs, said he would return to court Monday to ask a judge to set a court date to continue the litigation, including an immediate deposition of Law.

The archdiocese's chief financial officer, Chancellor David Smith, did not rule out a sale of the 16-acre chancery Sunday. He said it will take months to determine how much will be needed to finance a settlement fund.

Replacing 120,000 square feet of office and residence space for less than the sale price would be difficult, he said. But Law wouldn't mind living in a more practical setting, he added.

During the negotiations, Smith said, the archdiocese ``clearly misjudged'' how many victims had not yet filed suit. At least 450 victims of clergy sexual abuse have come forward since January, according to published reports.

Law's hand-picked advisers on the archdiocese's Finance Council outraged victims' advocates Friday when they backed out of the settlement in the case of Geoghan, who is in jail for child molestation. Law called the council's concern ``laudable.''

Law, who has refused calls to resign, addressed this latest controversy as he launched his annual appeal to raise $16 million for the archdiocese's day-to-day operating expenses and charitable missions.

The crisis will likely diminish the amount raised, said Law, who encouraged parishioners ``to be heroically generous this year.'' The funds go to administrative costs, Catholic schools and missions - not for lawsuit settlements, Law said.

In developments elsewhere:

-The Archdiocese of Detroit said two more Catholic priests are leaving their parishes amid allegations of sexual misconduct. The archdiocese on Friday gave prosecutors internal records of about 51 priests, two deacons and a religious brother accused of sexual misconduct in the last 15 years.

-The New Orleans archbishop suspended a priest pending investigation of two sexual abuse allegations involving minors in an Austin, Texas, diocese in the 1980s.

-The Rev. John E. Leonard of Richmond, Va., said he is being placed on administrative leave while the diocese investigates allegations he engaged in improper sexual behavior more than two decades ago.

-In Indiana, the Evansville Roman Catholic Diocese acknowledged that it failed to tell authorities more than 20 years ago about allegations that two priests had sexual contact with minors.

-The Connecticut Department of Children and Families sent a letter Friday to Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin seeking information on seven complaints the archdiocese has received since January against priests. The archdiocese said it is determining if the complaints, which involve conduct dating back 40 years, are credible.

-The Rev. James A. Forsythe, a priest in Overland Park, Kan., served three months in prison for molesting a 15-year-old boy but has not registered as a sex offender as required in South Dakota, where he is now a Protestant minister in Rapid City, The Kansas City Star reported. Forsythe, 47, said he did not know he needed to register and plans to.

-A Missouri priest resigned after an allegation surfaced that he sexually abused a minor about 25 years ago, the Archdiocese of St. Louis said.

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