Church Pays $4 Million to 4 for Abuse
By Mickey Ciokajlo
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has agreed to pay slightly more than $4 million to settle a lawsuit brought by four men who were allegedly molested by one of its priests more than a decade ago, and it is preparing to sell valuable real estate as it braces for more financial agreements with abuse victims.
Lawyers for the four men said Wednesday that their settlement was their first after more than three months of confidential mediation with the archdiocese.
The former priest, Vincent McCaffrey, is serving a 20-year sentence in federal prison after being convicted on child pornography charges after he left the priesthood in 1993.
The lawyers for the four men said they represent more than a dozen other victims with claims against "many" priests, all of whom have been previously named publicly.
The settlements are on top of the $16.8 million the archdiocese acknowledged paying out from 1993 through the beginning of this year related to abuse claims.
The suits are a particularly concrete example of how American dioceses continue to pay for the sex abuse scandal that shook the church last year.
The Archdiocese of Boston has estimated that it potentially faces more than $150 million in settlements with hundreds of abuse victims.
In Chicago, the suits do not pose a risk to the viability of the archdiocese, which has the cash to cover the $4 million settlement, according to Jim Dwyer, a spokesman for the archdiocese.
However, Dwyer said the archdiocese is preparing to sell eight to 10 parcels of property, ranging in size from 2 acres to 120 acres, to generate cash that, along with insurance funds, could be used to pay for future settlements.
"We're looking at the acres and we're trying to estimate what they might bring us," Dwyer said.
The land is undeveloped property in Cook and Lake Counties that was acquired through the years with future uses in mind, such as for churches or schools, he said. None of the property was slated for immediate use.
Depending on the timing of future settlement agreements, Dwyer said, the archdiocese might need to take out some short-term loans that would be paid back with proceeds from land sales.
He stressed that parishioner donations would not be used to pay off settlements.
Wednesday's settlement came on the heels of a $1.9 million accord disclosed last week between the archdiocese and a victim who also was allegedly abused by McCaffrey.
In January, the archdiocese released a report showing that it had spent $16.8 million since 1993 on settlements, legal fees and other costs related to clergy abuse.
Other dioceses have agreed to huge settlements as well. Last year, the Catholic Diocese of Tucson paid an estimated $15 million to settle 11 suits. The Diocese of San Bernardino, Calif., and a religious order recently settled a suit by two brothers for $4.2 million. Last September, Boston paid $10 million to settle 86 suits by alleged victims of Rev. John Geoghan.
The four men whose settlement was announced Wednesday were abused from 1977 through the 1980s, one of their lawyers, Jeffrey Anderson, said at a news conference Wednesday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Chicago.
The men now range in age from 30 to 50, Anderson said.
Eddie Vincent, 31, testified at McCaffrey's pornography trial in federal court late last year. He said he contacted the advocacy group SNAP--the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests--about a year and a half ago after a conversation with his sister triggered memories of his childhood abuse.
"Little did I know what I was about to encounter and what I was about to find out," Vincent said. "I thought I was the only person, the only victim ... and I realized other victims eventually came forward and all of the other lives that this person, this pedophile, this monster, ruined."
Vincent filed his lawsuit as John Doe in late September. The other three men involved in the settlement were also part of that suit, said Marc Pearlman, another lawyer for the men.
In the lawsuit, Vincent alleged that McCaffrey sexually abused him at least 25 times in 1984 and '85 while the priest was assigned to St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Wheeling.
Under reforms instituted by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, McCaffrey was removed from parish duties in 1991 and left the priesthood two years later.
"For me this year got really, really dark," said Vincent, adding that he is in therapy. "And the more that I found out that the church knew about it and that I was one of the supposedly last victims, let's just say I really had trouble sleeping."
Vincent said he was approached by another priest in 1991 who told him the archdiocese was aware McCaffrey had abused him. The priest told Vincent not to disclose the abuse, Vincent said.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Archdiocesan Chancellor Jimmy Lago apologized to the victims and said Cardinal Francis George has offered to meet personally with the them.
"Nothing representatives of the archdiocese do today can make up for the abuse inflicted on victims of clerical sexual misconduct," Lago said. "I join Cardinal George and other leaders of the Archdiocese of Chicago in extending a sincere apology to the survivors involved in these settlements and, indeed, to all survivors and their families and communities."
Lago noted that McCaffrey was removed from ministry 14 months prior to Bernardin's institution of new policies and procedures regarding clergy who sexually abuse minors.
"We knew way back then that what was done was inadequate," Dwyer said.
The lawyers for the four men praised the archdiocese Wednesday for the way it has handled the negotiations and said they hope to announce more settlements in the near future.
As part of the ongoing mediation, Anderson said the lawyers and the victims still seek additional concessions, in addition to money, from the archdiocese, including more disclosure about past misconduct and a greater voice for advocates regarding procedures for handling cases of abuse.
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