| DALLAS –
KOS (7/23/97 and 7/10/98)
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By Ed Housewright and Brooks Egerton
Jurors awarded 11 plaintiffs in a sexual-abuse civil case $ 119.6 million Thursday after unanimously finding that the Dallas Catholic Diocese committed "gross negligence" and concealed information in its handling of former priest Rudolph "Rudy" Kos.
The verdict, which includes $ 18 million in punitive damages against the diocese, is the largest judgment ever in a clergy sexual molestation case in the country.
The diocese's attorney, Randal Mathis, vowed to appeal the verdict to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary, although he told the jury, "There's absolutely no doubt the diocese received your message very, very clearly."
Windle Turley, who represented eight of the plaintiffs during the 11-week trial, said, "We asked this jury to speak to the world, and they have done that."
"This verdict gives a clear voice to the conscience of our community about the sexual abuse of children," said Sylvia Demarest, who represented the other three plaintiffs.
In a resounding defeat for the Dallas Diocese, the jury of 10 women and two men answered all the questions in its charge in favor of the plaintiffs. Mr. Kos was found partly responsible for injuries to the plaintiffs, but the jury apportioned the majority of responsibility to the diocese.
Jurors asked state District Judge Anne Ashby to read in open court a statement in which they admonished the diocese. Noting "the child is of the utmost importance," the jurors urged the diocese to institute stricter rules to protect children from sexual abuse.
"Please admit your guilt and allow these young men to get on with their lives," the jurors wrote.
The courtroom, filled with the plaintiffs, their families and friends, erupted in a 30-second standing ovation.
Jurors expressed disappointment that Bishop Charles Grahmann, who became head of the diocese in 1990, did not stay to hear the judge read their statement. While they were composing it, the bishop read his own statement in an adjoining courtroom, then left after taking no questions from reporters.
"The Diocese of Dallas remains committed to abiding by the final outcome of this case," said Bishop Grahmann in a prepared statement. "Even though the judicial process will continue, we assure all victims, including the parties in this case, that we will continue our assistance of therapy and counseling.
"It is important for everyone to understand that the diocese is committed to helping and healing its people."
Among the jury's findings were that the diocese committed fraud and engaged
in a conspiracy to cover up the sexual abuse. Jurors also found that sexual
abuse by Mr. Kos and the diocese's negligence were the "proximate
cause" of the suicide of a young man.
Mr. Mathis never questioned during the trial that Mr. Kos sexually abused boys at All Saints Catholic Church in North Dallas, St. Luke's church in Irving and St. John's church in Ennis from 1981 to 1992. Most of the abuse, which began with foot massages, occurred during overnight stays in Mr. Kos' rectory room.
But Mr. Mathis argued that the diocese should not be found liable for Mr. Kos' behavior because it investigated suspicions about his behavior with boys and concluded that sexual abuse was not occurring.
He also pointed out that the diocese removed Mr. Kos as soon as the first youth complained of sexual abuse in 1992.
The 52-year-old Mr. Kos, who is a free-lance paralegal in San Diego, never attended the trial, although he sent a letter to Bishop Grahmann last month in which he chided the diocese for not supporting him financially and denied the sexual abuse allegations.
Mr. Kos, who has been living under an assumed name, could not be reached for comment Thursday evening. In a previous interview with The Dallas Morning News , he said he had overcome his attraction to boys through intensive therapy but couldn't discuss "which ones I had sex with."
He said he was sorry "for anything I may have done" and would say Mass again if given the chance. At present, he is barred from performing priestly duties.
At the beginning of the trial, Judge Ashby ruled that Mr. Kos was liable for the abuse because he never responded to the lawsuits. He faces a criminal trial on related charges, perhaps this year.
After the verdict, Mr. Mathis said the case is "replete with constitutional issues." He said that most of the plaintiffs violated the statute of limitations by filing their lawsuits too late.
Mr. Turley and Ms. Demarest expressed confidence that the verdict would be upheld on appeal, which they said could take up to four years.
The only church official present for the jury's statement was Monsignor John Bell, who sat at the defense table with the diocese's lawyers.
Asked afterward whether the church would admit guilt, he replied: "I don't know how to answer that question. . . . I don't know what admit your guilt' is."
The term implies criminal wrongdoing rather than the civil liability that was at issue in the trial, he said.
As for the jury's request for policy changes to prevent further abuses, he said that the diocese had already enacted or was in the process of implementing them.
The jury, in answering the questions on the charge, assigned a percentage of responsibility to the diocese for the abuse of each of the plaintiffs.
The diocese was found 80 or 85 percent liable for most of the plaintiffs, with Mr. Kos being found liable for the remainder. The lowest percentage of liability for the church - 50 percent - was for Jim Sibert, who lived with Mr. Kos for three years in a rectory under the guise of being adopted.
Still, the diocese is liable for the entire jury award under the concept of "joint and several" liability, Mr. Turley said.
Mr. Turley and the other attorneys would not discuss their own compensation.
Plaintiffs had sought $ 146.5 million in actual and punitive damages.
The jury, which included two former Catholics, awarded $ 101.6 million in actual damages. The damages, including punitive, will earn interest at the rate of 10 percent a year for the four years since the first lawsuit was filed.The actual damages for each plaintiff were as high as $ 300,000 in future medical expenses, $ 2 million in lost future earnings and $ 4.8 million in future "mental anguish."
"I hope now the victims around the world will obtain the courage and strength to come forward," said plaintiff Shawn Johnson, 29, of Plano, at a news conference where plaintiffs embraced. "We know the shame, guilt and embarrassment. But know this as well: You are not alone."
Lee Hart, 28, said he didn't think he could return to the Catholic church "after all that came out in the trial." Most of the plaintiffs didn't know each other before the trial but said they became close friends after they heard - often for the first time - others' similar accounts of sexual abuse during the trial.
Many said during the trial that they had lost their faith because of the abuse and the way it was handled by the diocese.
"One of the deepest voids I have now is not having a spiritual outlet," said Mr. Hart, who now lives near Detroit. "Nothing can make up for what happened."
The jury's verdict on actual damages was read by Judge Ashby at 1:45 p.m. Thursday.
Jurors then heard an hour of testimony about the diocese's finances before considering whether to award punitive damages.
After sometimes hostile questioning of the diocese's chief financial officer, Mr. Turley told jurors that the diocese had assets of at least $ 290 million, although he said it was impossible to pin down exactly how much.
"You need to all pull together with a little more courage and do the thing that needs to be done," Mr. Turley said in arguing for punitive damages. "Speak to the people of Ireland, speak to Rome, speak to New York City, speak to Seattle - wherever people are exposed to sexual abuse by pastors or priests."
Mr. Mathis then asked, in a voice so quiet that it could barely be heard by the packed courtroom of about 60 people, that the jury not award any punitive damages. He disputed the asset figure given by Mr. Turley.
"As you can imagine, I really don't know what to say," Mr. Mathis said. "Everybody here is under a great deal of strain."
Throughout the trial's often dramatic testimony, the plaintiffs' lawyers argued that church officials ignored "a mountain of evidence" that indicated Mr. Kos was sexually abusing boys.
The Rev. Tom Economus, who has tracked clergy-abuse cases around the country, said the Dallas judgment is the largest of its kind. He said there were no other verdicts or out-of-court settlements that went much beyond $ 12 million.
Father Economus estimates that Catholic dioceses have paid out $ 650 million in settlements since the mid-1980s, when the first such scandal hit the courts. That case, in Lafayette, La., ended with more than $ 10 million in payments and the accused priest being sent to prison.
Since then, hundreds of similar cases have come to light.
Settling ones that are still pending could easily push the payout total over $ 1 billion, Father Economus said.
"Nobody ever wants to go to court," said the priest, who is active in the breakaway Reform Catholic movement and heads a Chicago-based national organization of clergy-abuse survivors called The Linkup. "It's the last alternative we have."
Father Economus helped found The Linkup several years ago as he tried to come to terms with being molested as a child by a priest at a South Dakota boys school. A federal lawsuit against the school could come to trial in September; the priest has since died in the crash of a small plane he was piloting while drunk, he said.
Most such suits are settled out of court because plaintiffs' evidence is so strong, Father Economus said. For that reason, he said, he's shocked that a jury got to hear the Dallas case.
"I've seen a lot less messy ones and they've never made it to trial," the priest said.
"Of the cases that have gone to trial, this really goes far beyond what we've seen" in terms of embarrassing revelations, he said. "It shows the entire conspiracy of the Roman Catholic Church, which goes far beyond the Dallas Diocese."
A lawyer for Lloyd's of London, which insures the Dallas Diocese and many others, echoed Father Economus' remarks.
"We always try to not have the cases go to trial," said the Chicago attorney, Richard F. Johnson. "The ones that go to trial have usually ended badly."
Mr. Johnson said he has seen a pattern of misbehavior among church officials: "They would learn of a priest having these tendencies and reassign him."
Thus, when further abuse occurred, "it was not something unexpected," and insurers would refuse to pay.
Church leaders seemed far more concerned with avoiding scandal than protecting children, he said.
"Their main concern in the earlier years was God forbid anyone should know,' " Mr. Johnson said. And where dioceses have cracked down and begun screening prospective clergymen more strictly, it's largely "because of what they were seeing about themselves in the paper."
The plaintiffs' attorneys introduced evidence about alleged sexual abuse by other Dallas Diocese priests during the trial.
Robert Peebles, who served with Mr. Kos at All Saints church in 1981 and 1982, has admitted in a deposition that he sexually abused seven boys.
William Hughes is accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl at St. Luke's church, shortly before Mr. Kos was transferred there in the mid-1980s.
Mr. Turley has estimated that Mr. Kos, who plied boys with alcohol and drugs, may have sexually abused as many as 50 boys.
Staff writers Tracy Everbach and Christine Wicker contributed to this
By Ed Housewright and Brooks Egerton
A $ 23.4 million settlement of the Rudy Kos sex-abuse case announced Friday included a "profound" apology from Bishop Charles V. Grahmann and a pledge to prevent other sexual molestation in the Dallas Catholic Diocese.
"We rejoice that this tragic episode is behind us," Bishop Grahmann told about 40 employees in announcing the settlement. "We've acknowledged the pain and suffering of the victims in this case."
Windle Turley, an attorney for nine of the plaintiffs who sued the diocese, said it now has the chance to develop a model program to prevent sexual abuse.
"We believe this diocese - if it will seize this moment, and it has said that it will - is now positioned to . . . lead the Catholic Church and similar institutions toward the elimination of child sexual abuse," Mr. Turley said at a news conference.
Under the settlement, the diocese will pay $ 7.25 million of the $ 23.4 million, and four insurers will pay the rest. This settlement comes four months after three other plaintiffs who alleged sexual abuse by former priest Rudolph "Rudy" Kos settled with the diocese for $ 7.5 million.
The diocese's share of both settlements totals $ 10.35 million. Its legal fees are close to $ 4 million, diocese spokeswoman Lisa LeMaster said.
Last July, a Dallas civil jury awarded $ 119.6 million to the plaintiffs in the largest clergy-abuse judgment in history.
Bishop Grahmann said the diocese will take out a loan to cover its part of the settlement, then decide what property to sell to pay off the loan. He emphasized that no parish assets or schools would be sold.
"We're broke," the bishop said in an interview after his 10-minute speech to employees. "We live from hand to mouth. We've always lived from hand to mouth."
Mr. Turley had vowed after the verdict to collect the entire judgment, which grew with interest to about $ 175 million. But he said Friday: "I'm convinced they have done all they can do. We do not feel the diocese is walking away."
The Kos judgment last year drew international attention. Even the reduced settlement is the largest ever in a clergy-abuse case.
"It was a sonic boom," said the Rev. Kevin McDonough, No. 2 official in the archdiocese of St. Paul, Minn., and a consultant to a national bishops' committee on sexual abuse.
Pope John Paul II has weighed in recently, taking the rare step of dismissing Mr. Kos from the priesthood without the ordinarily required church trial. Bishop Grahmann had pushed for the action, which the diocese announced earlier this week.
"We thought we had the pope's attention" last year with the verdict, Mr. Turley said Friday. "The action this week confirmed it."
Mr. Turley was joined at the news conference by several plaintiffs. Nathan Nichols, a 19-year-old former altar boy from Ennis, said "the pain will never go away."
"The dollar amount can't help that," he said. "The only thing that can is seeing the diocese change and knowing that I've done something that will help - not only the Dallas diocese, but the dioceses of the nation and in the world."
Mr. Turley said the diocese is "scared to death" of any future litigation. Because of that, he said he's confident that church officials will implement changes to prevent sexual abuse.
The settlement requires the diocese to undergo an outside auditor's study of its ability to stop abuse and to adopt the auditor's recommendations for at least one year.
"They have too great a financial interest not to" change, Mr. Turley said.
Ms. LeMaster said that church leaders did not have to be pressured to do the audit. She said a diocesan lawyer has already been interviewing prospective consultants.
Bishop Grahmann announced in a written statement that church officials have taken major steps since the verdict to prevent sexual abuse. These include establishing:
* A new personnel board with lay representatives.
* A board to review candidates for ordination to the priesthood and to review priests and deacons seeking to move to the Dallas diocese.
* A board composed of professionals in psychology and law enforcement to refer allegations of sex abuse to authorities.
* A review of hiring policies to include more extensive background checks.
"I can't say 100 percent that it [sexual abuse] will never reoccur," Bishop Grahmann said in an interview. "But I can say 99 percent that it won't reoccur."
The plaintiffs said they would put part of the settlement funds toward an Internet site, to be run out of Mr. Turley's office, that will provide information about institutional sex abuse. The site will be accessible both to victims and to organizations that want to reduce risk, the attorney said.
To obtain the settlement, the plaintiffs had to agree to vacate the judgment. Legal experts say that will help the diocese obtain credit and defend against other potential victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Instead of the judgment, Mr. Turley said, the plaintiffs now have a written statement in which Bishop Grahmann admits that the diocese made errors in dealing with Mr. Kos and continues:
"We accept the burden of the verdict. I regret very much what happened, and I am deeply sorry for your pain. The diocese acknowledges the trial, the verdict and the judgment."
At Mr. Turley's news conference, the father of a young man who committed suicide after years of sexual abuse by Mr. Kos said that he accepted the bishop's apology.
But "it isn't going to bring my son back," Pat Lemberger said of his son, Jay, who killed himself in 1992.
A man who sued the diocese after the verdict last summer said Friday that he hid his abuse for years because the people closest to him remained loyal to Mr. Kos.
"I was very enclosed, very violent," said 19-year-old Nick Porter of Irving, who spoke publicly about the abuse for the first time. "I still can't today even picture him [Mr. Kos] in my mind and not almost start to cry."
His lawsuit alleged that he was abused for the last time in late 1992, when Mr. Kos returned to the Dallas area while on leave from a pedophile treatment center in New Mexico. At that point, the diocese had not told parishioners why the priest had been sent away.
Mr. Porter said that made him feel betrayed, and he finds it harder to forgive the diocese than Mr. Kos. He said he no longer considers himself "much of a Catholic."
"Someday," Mr. Porter said, "I might be able to make it back to normal."
The 11 other plaintiffs alleged that they were sexually abused by Mr. Kos from 1981 to 1992 when he was at churches in Dallas, Irving and Ennis.
Mr. Kos, 53, was found liable for the civil damages but is destitute and is not expected to pay anything. This spring, he was convicted in criminal court of child molestation and sentenced to life in prison.
In his speech to employees at the diocese headquarters, Bishop Grahmann said he didn't want to "replay the past" and be a "Monday morning quarterback."
"I want to focus on the future," he said, speaking without notes. "I appreciate the overwhelming support you have given to me."
Robert Garcia, a church employee who heard the speech, said he thought the bishop's message was "very, very good."
"He is our pastor, the one who looks after all the Catholic community," said Mr. Garcia, the building maintenance supervisor at the diocese headquarters. "I think he's been carrying the burden."
Bishop Grahmann said Friday, as he had during the trial, that he removed Mr. Kos as soon as he became aware of his abuse. He said that most of the abuse occurred before he became bishop in 1990.
But he said that as the head of the diocese, he has to "assume responsibility for handling that, and I hope I have."
Bishop Grahmann, 66, said he never considering resigning as a result of the scandal and said he hopes to serve as bishop until he's 75. He said his health is fine following kidney surgery in December.
"The doctor says I'm doing super," he said.
The latest settlement was reached after about six months of negotiations with mediator Jay Madrid. He was appointed by state District Judge Anne Ashby, who presided over the three-month trial. Mr. Madrid was praised by all parties Friday.
"He just stuck with it for months and months and months when I think many mediators would have called an impasse or given up," said Brad Dickinson, an attorney for Interstate Fire & Casualty, one of the four insurers that were part of the settlement. "He just kept hammering all sides until they were able to come to common ground."
Mr. Madrid, a lawyer who has conducted mediations for 12 years, said this case was one of his toughest.
"It took a lot of time and a lot of dealings," he said. "While
we ran into a number of roadblocks along the way, the parties never really
gave up on the process."
By Charles V. Grahmann
This settlement brings closure to a long period of sadness for all of us. There are no simple solutions when confronting terrible acts such as those inflicted by Rudy Kos.
To the victims and their families, I once again want to apologize on behalf of the Diocese. Based on what we know now, the decisions made concerning Rudy Kos were errors in human judgment. we accept the burden of the verdict. I regret very much what happened, and I am deeply sorry for your pain.
The Diocese acknowledges the trial, the verdict and the judgment. The Diocese and its insurers have now offered and are paying monetary compensation to the victims in settlement of the litigation. For that reason, the judgment is being released and vacated.
I can tell you we have instituted new programs and policies to try to prevent this from happening again. Hopefully this settlement will provide us with a new beginning so that we can walk humbly with our God.
Most Reverend Charles V. Grahmann
By Marci Hamilton email@example.com
Recently, in Stogner v. California, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional California's law retroactively lifting the statute of limitations on child abuse. The Court held that the law violated the Constitution's Ex Post Facto Clause, which prohibits certain retroactive criminal laws. The purpose of the Clause is to protect citizens from arbitrary government action changing the legal status of actions that occurred in the past.
Abuse victims were deeply and understandably upset by the decision in Stogner. As a result of the ruling, predators bound for prison got off scot free. For some, it seemed too much to bear.
But the Supreme Court had little choice. Upholding California's law would have required a rather drastic revision of the Ex Post facto prohibition.
The real fault is not with the Court, but with state legislatures. The statute of limitations for child abuse in California, and in many other states, is simply too short.
Why Child Abuse Statutes of Limitations Must Be Lengthy to Address the Crime
Some of the ugliest comments in the clergy child abuse scandal have been by defenders of the Church who have argued that since the child knows what is happening during the abuse, a short statute of limitations is fair.
Not only are their comments cruel, but their premise is inaccurate. Children often live with the ugliness of child abuse for years, held within themselves, precisely because they are not certain exactly what happened, or how to judge it. They need maturity to comprehend the situation.
It is understandably hard for a child to fully understand that the fault belonged to a trusted, revered authority figure, charged with interpreting the word of God - and not to the child himself or herself. A child's mind may find it hard to reckon with the idea that the same figures who meted out advice, and in some cases, sanctions, now deserve sanction themselves.
He or she may also wrongly feel somehow culpable in the abuse, especially if he or she did not fight against it, or tell anyone else about it. When abusers offer "love" and gifts in a bid to guarantee the child's silence, the guilt may only intensify.
For this reason, it is all the more important that the victim sees his or her abuser eventually go to prison for their crimes. Even when many years have gone by, the victims still feels a sense of justice and safety. The prison term validates the victim's experience; society's fingering the one who is really to blame frees the victim from guilt and feelings of implicitly culpability.
In light of these realities, it is only fair to extend, if not eliminate, the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. There is no statute of limitations on murder. And because the abuse so often kills the child's innocence and childhood, the analogy is not inapt.
Some states have accordingly abolished any statute of limitations for criminal child abuse - and other states should follow their lead.
Abolishing the Statute of Limitations May Prompt Confessions
Among other benefits, abolishing child abuse statutes of limitations may prompt confessions - confessions that the victims desperately need to hear - and settlement. That is exactly what occurred in one case after California retroactively extended its child abuse statute of limitations, and before Stogner negated the extension.
The case arose when two men in their thirties came forward to allege that, as altar boys in the 1970s, they had each been abused numerous times by the same priest - Edward Lawrence Ball of Our Lady of Fatima Church in San Bernardino, California. (Neither boy had previously known about the other's abuse.)
The result was to prompt Ball to confess to molesting the boys, and also to prompt a record settlement. Under the settlement, the archdiocese and an Illinois religious order, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, agreed to each pay $2.1 million to the men. (The men did not settle their claims against Ball himself, however.)
After Stogner, Ball was released from jail. In theory, the Court could have demanded reconsideration of the settlement. But it did not - probably due to Father Ball's confession and the outrage prompted by the abuse he committed.
As the victims have stated repeatedly, these lawsuits are not about money. Rather, they are about teaching the Church a lesson it sorely needs to learn: It is responsible for the children who come into contact with its priests.
Settlement Versus Jury Trial: Which Is the Better Option for Victims
The resolution of the two men's case against Ball leaves open a larger question: Are settlements or jury trials the best option for child abuse victims?
One advantage of a jury trial is that it can place responsibility exactly where it belongs. For instance, the Dallas diocese lost a civil trial based on Rudy Kos's sexual abuse. The jury found that the diocese had committed fraud and engaged in a conspiracy to cover up the sexual abuse, and awarded the plaintiffs $119.6 million. When it rendered its verdict, the foreman read the following brief statement: "Please admit your guilt and allow these young men to get on with their lives." The courtroom, by all accounts, erupted in applause. (The plaintiffs later settled for $23.4 million, probably to avoid endless appeals, but the point had been made - and made very publicly.)
The recent settlement reached with the Boston archdiocese was not nearly as satisfying a vindication for victims. Originally, the agreement would have been for $30 million. But the Church - despite its ability to go after its insurer for the money - claimed it could not go on with its mission to aid other victims if it paid that much. The claim seems dubious, to say the least: Later investigation revealed approximately $160 million in land holdings alone.
In the end, the Boston settlement had victims apologizing to other victims for getting so little. They explained that they just could not go on with a seemingly endless process that prolonged the pain.
That is certainly a reasonable consideration. But victims should think twice before accepting a settlement in lieu of a trial. As difficult as a trial may be for victims, it offers an opportunity to have their community--via the jury--express its outrage on their behalf, which can have a strong healing effect. In the Dallas case, for instance, the victims - once isolated - through the trial found supporters to condemn the Church's wrongs in no uncertain terms.
Victims may, in the end, find greater satisfaction in airing the crimes and wrongs to a jury of persons from their community - not just to the attorneys negotiating their settlement. It is hard for a settlement to match the justice rendered by that Dallas jury in 1997 - and more victims should persevere to seek that kind of justice, which they deserve.
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