The Independent Newsweekly
|Church in Crisis|
Issue Date: June 20, 2003
By GLENN RUTHERFORD
Catholic News Service
The Louisville, Ky., archdiocese has agreed to settle 243 sexual abuse lawsuits by 240 plaintiffs for $25.7 million.
The agreement was announced at a news conference June 10, some 14 months after the first of the lawsuits was filed in Jefferson Circuit Court.
Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, speaking at the news conference, again apologized to the childhood victims of abuse by priests and other church personnel.
No child should ever have had to experience what happened to you, he said. I promise that we are doing everything we can to prevent child abuse in the church. I apologize again for what we did or what we failed to do that led to your abuse. I hope that todays settlement is seen as a sign of our willingness to support you in your healing.
The archdiocese had three major goals in the negotiations, the archbishop said.
Our first concern was justice and fairness for the victims, he said. Our second goal was the preservation of the mission of the church, and the third goal was protection of parish savings and property.
The archdiocese will have 30 days to make a one-time, lump-sum payment to the plaintiffs, said Brian Reynolds, archdiocesan chancellor and chief administrative officer. Reynolds, the chief negotiator for the archdiocese in the five days of mediation leading up to the settlement, said the money will come from archdiocesan savings and investments.
The settlement must be approved by Jefferson Circuit Judge James M. Shake, and after the courts approval the funds will be placed in an escrow account. The court will oversee the division of the settlement among the plaintiffs, taking into account factors such as the severity of abuse, number of incidents and age of the victim when the abuse occurred.
The 243 suits involve 240 plaintiffs because three of them filed two lawsuits each.
There are still eight cases pending because those plaintiffs did not take part in the settlement negotiations. Before the June 10 settlement, six other cases were settled separately.
While relieved that the mediation was successful, Reynolds said it was not cause for celebration.
It is the right thing to do, the best thing to do for the victims, he said. And the alternatives could have been particularly damaging to the archdiocese and the victims, too. It would have meant spreading the litigation over a number of years, with additional legal costs.
He said the archdiocese -- already hit hard by the costs of the litigation -- will face further financial sacrifice.
The impact on the archdiocese will be real and significant, he said, though we dont yet know the details. We have already taken steps in recent weeks to reduce our expenditures, and now our income from investments will be greatly reduced.
Kelly reiterated that he did not intend to resign, although some victims have said he should.
My mandatory retirement [at age 75] comes in about three years, he said, and I believe its the wrong time to leave the leadership and service of the archdiocese. Its not good management to walk out in the middle of a problem.
We now have a long way to go to straighten ourselves out financially, he said. The archdiocese reduced its budget by $1.6 million this year. It cut its work force by 12 percent, eliminating 34 positions, and imposed a salary freeze.
The cases were mediated by former federal judge Nicholas Politan of Newark, N.J., and Reynolds said the speed with which the two sides arrived at an agreement was, in part, because of Politans efforts. We had an excellent mediator and we all negotiated in good faith, he said.
The Conventual Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Consolation, with headquarters in southern Indiana, was named co-defendant in 19 of the settled suits and will share in the costs for those cases. But Reynolds said the agreement calls for their financial contribution to be kept confidential.
A total of 35 priests and six others associated with the archdiocese were named in the lawsuits. Bishop J. Kendrick Williams resigned as bishop of Lexington, Ky., after he was named in a civil suit filed in Louisville, where he had served as a priest.
Three of the accused priests -- Frs. Louis E. Miller, Daniel C. Clark and James E. Hargadon -- have been indicted on criminal charges.
Miller, 72, was sentenced to 20 years in prison this May after pleading guilty to 50 counts of felony sexual abuse charges in Jefferson County. On June 9 he pleaded guilty to 14 additional charges in Oldham County, for which he could face up to 20 more years in prison. He is to be sentenced there Aug. 18.
National Catholic Reporter, June 20, 2003
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