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  Sexual-Abuse Mediation Talks Proceeding Slowly
Archdiocese and Plaintiffs' Lawyers to Meet Again Today

By Peter Smith psmith@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
Downloaded June 5, 2003

Representatives of the Archdiocese of Louisville and lawyers for almost 250 plaintiffs continued closed-door mediation yesterday aimed at settling law suits alleging sex ual abuse by priests and others associated with the Roman Catholic Church.

After the archdiocese completed an opening presentation begun Tuesday, a mediator met separately with representatives of the plaintiffs, the archdiocese and the Southern Indiana-based province of Conventual Franciscans, a co-defendant in 19 lawsuits. Talks are scheduled to continue today at the Jefferson Club in downtown Louisville.

The Franciscans also gave an opening presentation yesterday.

Attorney William McMurry, who is negotiating on behalf of 242 plaintiffs, said that the talks are going slowly but that he is optimistic.

McMurry said he has begun to talk with the mediator about dollar figures for a possible financial settlement , but the mediator has not exchanged this information with the other parties yet.

"My expectation is we will begin the process of exchanging offers and counteroffers," he said.

Brian Reynolds, the chancellor and chief administrative officer for the archdiocese, said church officials discussed the archdiocese's current financial situation and about settlements of sex-abuse cases by other dioceses around the country.

The talks are being mediated by Nicholas Politan of New Jersey , a former federal judge .

"Judge Politan is very skilled in assisting all of us in looking at the variety of complex issues," Reynolds said. "But it's important to say this is a very difficult process of analysis of the cases and trying to work towards an appropriate response for all involved. &elipse; But I am in no way discouraged."

Neither side would discuss dollar figures.

Six lawsuits against the church have already been settled. One plaintiff opted out of the settlement talks, and a few others filed suit after the deadline for joining the talks.

Another lawsuit was filed against the archdiocese yesterday by Louisville resident Linda Epperson, who says the Rev. Joseph Rives sexually abus ed her in 1962 while she was a student at St. Frances of Rome Church.

Epperson is the third woman to sue accusing Rives, who died in 1971.

In language similar to the other cases against the archdiocese, the lawsuit contends the church knew of abuse by Rives and covered it up, though it does not give evidence of such a cover-up. The archdiocese has denied such accusations in other cases.

But the Epperson case also contends that the Catholic Church's requirement that priests remain celibate is an "ill conceived mandate" and blames it for producing "perversions in sexual behavior" in some priests.

The lawsuit, the 254th filed against the archdiocese since April 2002, claims that since the church requires priests to be celibate, it has a legal duty to make sure its priests are living up to that requirement. Since the crisis of clergy sexual abuse surfaced in the Catholic Church early last year, the possible impact of the church's requirement of clerical celibacy has often been debated.

"It might be time to bring it up and deal with it," said attorney Harry Gregory, who along with attorney Jacqueline Schroering filed Epperson's lawsuit .

Gregory said that the Catholic Church is well within its rights to impose the requirement of celibacy - but that it has a legal "special duty" to enforce the rules it imposes on its priests.

"I don't think there's anything inherent about abstinence and celibacy that breeds perversion, but in certain individuals it does," Gregory said.

Archdiocesan spokeswoman Cecelia Price said she could not comment on pending litigation.

But McMurry, who represents the vast majority of clients in the lawsuits against the archdiocese, raised doubts about the claim, saying it challenges the constitutional separation of church and state.

"I think that it misses the point," he added. "The issue is, will the church police its priests like any corporation polices its employees?"

The Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the national Catholic magazine America, also questioned the legal argument.

"The overwhelming research indicates that celibacy has nothing to do with pedophilia," he said. "We find all sorts of child abuse in families by married men."

 
 

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