Mediators for the Buffalo Catholic Diocese have decided an award of $650,000 to a survivor of priest sexual abuse, which his attorney said is the largest sum made public to settle such a case.
Attorney Steve Boyd said his male client, 49, was abused over most of his high school years in the 1980s by Fr. Michael Freeman, who is now deceased.
"He was abused in a rectory. He was abused by being taken to Toronto and made to have sex with male prostitutes in front of the priest for the priest's gratification," Boyd said. "He was at times shown a silver .38 revolver placed at the side of his head when he did not want to perform the acts on the priest. The priest is nothing short of pure evil."
Freeman served in a number of local parishes. Boyd said the priest had already been named in diocese complaints for abusing other boys when his client started being abused.
"We believe that an Erie County jury would give significantly more for the damage that was done by Fr. Michael Freeman and by the Diocese of Buffalo, which knew who he was, what he was, and failed to take any action to keep him away from young people," he said. "There were complaints about this priest from other boys before my client's abuse. They covered up the crime."
Boyd said he now has 60 days to inform the diocese whether his client will accept the decision. He is watching whether the Child Victims Act will pass in the new state legislature session. That act is expected to expand the statute of limitations of sexual abuse cases and allow many more cases to be prosecuted.
"This is a role of somebody who counsels people. This is a role of somebody who can hear your words in a confessional and know what your thoughts are and know what your fears are and know what's broken in your life and then use that information to gain power over these individuals," Boyd said. "These priests have done this throughout the world, throughout this community, and Fr. Michael Freeman was among the worst. He did it over and over again."
Boyd said three other of his clients also have gone through mediation. He has found New York State Surrogate Court Judge for Erie County Barbara Howe and retired state Appellate Division Associate Justice Jerome Gorski thoughtful in hearing his clients' cases.
"They did not cross-examine. They did not cast any doubts on any of what our clients put before them and there was no diocesan lawyer present to do that either, so this was really an opportunity to explain to the mediators what had gone on," he said. "There's no doubt that Judge Howe and Judge Gorski are giving great thought to the decisions that they've made, but what we don't know is if they've been given some sort of budget or some sort of parameters, so that they have to fit numbers of all of these complaints within some sort of budgetary number."
The diocese issued the following statement in response:
- Awards have recently been issued by the Administrators of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP)
- They are not settlement offers from the Diocese
- According to the Program, the claimant is free to accept or reject the awards issued by the Administrators
- The Diocese is bound by whatever the claimant decides
- The IRCP claimants are not bound by confidentiality, and are free to publically discuss their claim and any aspect of the IRCP process
- The Diocese, however, is bound by confidentiality and will not be commenting on specific claims