The long battle between the Burlington Catholic Diocese and former altar boys who say they were abused seems to be over. Both sides announced a major settlement, Thursday afternoon.
The road to the historic announcement is a long one. It started in the 1970s when Father Edward Paquette, Father Alfred Willis, and other priests molested an untold number of altar boys while working for the Catholic Diocese in Burlington. Many of the boys did not come forward until years later and over the last three years six of their cases made it to court.
In five of those six cases juries decided the Diocese failed to protect the boys. The juries awarded the victims nearly $15 million combined including one award of $9 million.
"The process has been long, it has been painful, but never has the process been executed with any intention to have these suffering suffer still more," said Bishop Salvator Matano, head of the diocese, after announcing the settlement.
As those cases made their way through the appeals process 26 cases were getting ready to head to court. In February, Judge Helen Toor ruled 18 of those be tried together and required the diocese and victims to go to mediation and try to settle the cases. She set a deadline of May 31st. It happened two weeks early with a settlement of $17.6 million.
"We like bring cases in front of juries, however the best interests of our clients is what drives us always. And the best interest of our clients was to resolve the cases on fair and favorable terms. As it is now, there are no more appeals, they will not be having to wait to get their money," said attorney Jerry O'Neill who represents the victims.
Lawyers also reached a deal on three cases pending on appeal before the Vermont Supreme Court but would not disclose the amount at the request of the victims. It means the victims and the church can now look toward healing instead of trial dates.
"I ask all the faithful to join me in praying always for those wounded and hurt brothers and sisters," said Matano.
The diocese intends to pay the settlements by selling two of its properties, in Burlington and Colchester. Combined they are estimated to be worth about $30 million.
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