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Tuesday, 12 March, 2002, 20:00 GMT
Church agrees sex abuse payout
John Geoghan (L) and his attorney Geoffrey Packard (R) in court
Geoghan (L) has more than 80 cases still pending
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By Mark Duff
BBC religious affairs correspondent
The Roman Catholic Church in the United States is reported to have agreed a multi-million dollar payout to alleged victims of a now-defrocked priest who has been jailed for up to 10 years for sexually molesting a young boy.

The case has challenged the Church to examine its whole approach to allegations of abuse by priests.

John Geoghan has only been convicted on one count so far - but many more people say they were molested by him over the years.

The lawyer for 70 people who say they were also victims of the man said the deal marked a major step towards overcoming the trauma of the abuse.

Painful questions

The publicity surrounding his exposure and trial has proved agonising for the Catholic Church in the diocese of Boston, the fourth biggest in the United States.

It has also raised painful questions about how many other hidden molesters there could be and about how the Church has handled allegations of sex abuse by its priests.

Newspaper reports say it could involve as much as $30m, with an independent arbitrator deciding how much each alleged victim should get.

The Church says alleged abuse should be immediately reported to Rome
Cardinal Bernard Law, who leads the Boston diocese, has been criticised for not doing more, sooner, to tackle the problem.

He has since apologised to the victims, announced what he has called a zero tolerance policy, and given police the names of 80 priests who have been accused of abusing children over the past five decades.

The Boston Globe newspaper - which has done much to publicise the alleged abuse - says the archdiocese could end up paying more than $100m to settle claims brought by hundreds of alleged victims over the last decade.

That would make it the highest sum ever paid by the Catholic Church in the United States.

See also:

15 Jun 01 | Europe
Crisis in the confessional
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