Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Church pays $25.7M in abuse settlement

By Mike Torralba
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - The Archdiocese of Louisville will pay victims of sexual abuse $25.7 million to settle 243 lawsuits filed against it in the past 14 months, representatives of both sides said Tuesday night.

William McMurry, who represents many of the plaintiffs, said the archdiocese was using more than half its liquid assets to pay the settlement, which "speaks volumes about the legitimacy of those lawsuits."

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"They only have, at least as disclosed recently in their financials, $48 million from which to pay these claims," McMurry said at a news conference Tuesday night. "To give 60 percent of that as an outreach to these victims is meaningful. It was hard-fought, it was difficult to achieve monetarily, but it was very, very rewarding."

Archbishop Thomas Kelly spoke directly to victims during a separate news conference held at the same time as McMurry's.

"No child should ever have had experienced what happened to you," he said. "I promise we are doing everything possible to prevent child abuse in the church. I apologize again for what we did or failed to do that led to your abuse. I hope today's settlement is a sign of our willingness to help you in your healing."

Attorneys for the Roman Catholic archdiocese and nearly 250 alleged victims began meeting last week to reach an out-of-court settlement.

"We worked very hard over the past two days and three days last week," said Brian Reynolds, the archdiocese's chancellor and chief administrative officer.

"The nature of this kind of mediation is finding the kind of an agreement we can reach," Reynolds said. "We have reached that agreement. It's very difficult for us to find a way to meet all the needs we have as a church, while also responding to this number of cases."

In the past 14 months, the archdiocese has been inundated with lawsuits filed by people who claim they were sexually abused as children by priests or others connected with the church. The suits, many of them containing decades-old revelations, claim the archdiocese knew of the alleged abuse but concealed it and did nothing to stop it.

"No settlement is one that either side jumps up and down and celebrates," McMurry said. "What's to be celebrated is the closure that this settlement brings to these cases, to the lives of these people, to the many years of torment and certainly to this Catholic community, to get this very ugly business behind them."

No monetary figures had been raised by either side heading into the negotiations.

The archdiocese has said it expects to spend more than $1 million on legal, settlement and counseling costs by June 30, the end of its fiscal year. It recently announced it was cutting 34 jobs, or about 12 percent of its work force, as well as freezing salaries and slashing its budget by about $2 million.

Hundreds of people have signed petitions calling for Kelly's resignation for his handling of allegedly sexually abusive priests.

One of the accused priests, the Rev. Louis Miller, was sentenced May 27 to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to 50 counts of sexual misconduct in Jefferson County. He pleaded guilty to sexual abuse cases in Oldham County on Monday.

Two other priests, the Revs. Daniel C. Clark and James Hargadon; a former priest, Bruce Ewing; and two teachers are awaiting trial within the next year in Jefferson, Oldham, Bullitt and Grayson counties.

All five have pleaded not guilty and were employed by the Louisville archdiocese.

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