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Diocese to Pay Largest Abuse Settlement Yet

More than 100 alleged victims in Kentucky will share $120 million. A lawsuit said that molestation had been covered up for 50 years.

June 04, 2005|P.J. Huffstutter and Larry B. Stammer | Times Staff Writers

COVINGTON, Ky. — Marking the largest settlement yet in the Roman Catholic Church's sexual abuse crisis, the Covington Diocese said Friday that it had agreed to pay as much as $120 million to alleged victims of child molestation.

The amount, which must be approved by the Boone County Circuit Court, would eclipse a $100-million settlement reached by the Orange County Diocese last year involving 90 victims, and an $85-million settlement reached two years ago with 552 victims by the Boston Archdiocese, where the scandal erupted in 2002.

The announcement came after more than a year of negotiations after the filing of a class-action suit against the Covington Diocese in February 2003 on behalf of more than 100 alleged victims. The suit said the diocese had covered up the abuse over a 50-year period.

"After personally meeting with more than 70 victims, I am painfully aware that no amount of money can compensate for the harm these victims suffered as innocent children," the Most Rev. Roger Foys said in a statement Friday. Foys, who became bishop of the diocese in July 2002, apologized to those who reported abuse and "were not treated with respect and courtesy when they came forth."

Under terms of the settlement, victims would be placed into one of four categories, depending upon the severity of their abuse. Payouts would range from $5,000 to $450,000 per victim, minus lawyer fees.

The diocese agreed that any person who said they were sexually abused by a member of the clergy or a lay employee could seek compensation no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred.

The diocese said it would put up church real estate, including its retreat center, and other investments to raise $40 million. The remaining $80 million, the diocese said, would be paid by its insurance carriers. The diocese said it would sue its insurance carriers, if necessary, to get them to pay. Any funds not needed to pay out claims would be returned to the diocese.

The announcement in this northern Kentucky diocese -- which includes 14 counties and stretches from the thriving suburbs and retail areas just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati to the farm country -- was another reminder of the ongoing fallout of what many in the American Catholic Church have called the worst crisis in its history.

"The bottom line is, this settlement is illustrative of the nationwide scale of this problem," Costa Mesa lawyer John C. Manly said Friday. Manly represents a number of clients who have brought claims against churches in Orange and Los Angeles counties.

Lawyer Stanley M. Chesley, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, called the Covington settlement "an unprecedented result in an extremely difficult matter."

In Lexington, Ky., one alleged victim who was not part of the suit said that said no amount of money could blot out her memories of being sexually abused by a priest in the Covington Diocese, beginning when she was 13.

"The folks who are settling in the class-action lawsuit will feel the same thing I felt," said Kay Montgomery, 52. "Once the money's in the bank account and the dust settles, you realize it doesn't really matter. Everything's still the same. Nothing has changed." Montgomery received an undisclosed amount in an earlier settlement.

"At first there are feelings of everything -- vindication, grief, hope -- but over time you realize that the church is not making any true cultural changes," she said. "All they're doing, it seems, is writing big checks to settle their problems and have people stop talking about what's really going on."

Unlike the agreements in Orange County and Boston, the Kentucky case apparently does not require the Diocese of Covington to publicly disclose any internal church documents that could shed light on the extent of any abuse or how the diocese handled accusations against its priests.

"To my knowledge, the settlement language contains no references to diocesan documents," diocese spokesman Timothy Fitzgerald said Friday.

But David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said Friday that the size of the Kentucky settlement indicated decades of wrongdoing. "More than anything, it tells me there's horrific evidence of widespread abuse and coverup," Clohessy said.

Foys said he would do everything possible "to assure that this reprehensible behavior by priests will never again be repeated in our diocese."

The priest abuse scandal exploded in early 2002 in Boston and quickly spread across the country. A study commissioned by the nation's bishops reported in 2004 that at least 4,392 priests had been accused by 10,667 individuals of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002.

At least three dioceses -- ; Portland, Ore.; and Spokane, Wash.; and Tucson -- filed for bankruptcy protection because of the scandal, and a number of bishops have resigned, the most prominent being Boston's Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

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