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  Diocese-Sex Costs Reach $2.7 Million
Church Identifies 18 Linked to Abuse

By Michael Clancy
The Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ]
September 10, 2003

Sexual abuse of children by priests has cost the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix more than $2.7 million over the past 34 years, with two-thirds of that used to pay victims in the settlement of 14 legal claims, the diocese said Tuesday.

In addition, the diocese listed 18 priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct with minors, its first accounting of that group.

Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan, temporary administrator of the diocese, released the information exclusively to The Arizona Republic.

The $2.7 million may be just the beginning of costs associated with the scandal. The diocese has been named as a defendant in at least six more civil lawsuits, and there is the potential for others. If settled for the same average as the previous 14, costs could reach an additional $750,000.

The diocese said the total spent so far in the scandal covers a period from the creation of the diocese on Dec. 2, 1969, to the present.

Many other dioceses, including the Tucson Diocese, have published similar documents over the past two years.

The Phoenix Diocese did not divulge the sources of its expenditures, but officials have pointed out in the past that at least some of its donations, including money from the annual Charity and Development Appeal, school tuition funds and others, have not been used.

The money spent so far by the Phoenix Diocese in connection with its sex scandal is only a fraction of what other dioceses have paid out in relation to their own incidents of sexual abuse by priests.

The Archdiocese of Boston has spent at least $95 million in settlements alone, including Tuesday's $85 million settlement with 552 victims.

The Diocese of Tucson, which released a financial statement in January, reported that its total stands at $1.6 million but does not include a confidential settlement of 11 lawsuits in January 2002 that is estimated to have cost as much as $16 million.

Sheehan said the release of the information represents a new climate in the diocese. Sheehan took over the diocese after Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien resigned in June, charged with a felony after he was involved in a fatal hit-and-run accident.

"In releasing this information about the financial implications of clergy misconduct, we are being open with the community and cooperating with the media, which have an important role in informing our community," Sheehan said. "Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims of sexual misconduct by clergy, and I want to assure victims that counseling is available. Moreover, we pledge our ongoing efforts to create safe environments so that no one else is victimized."

But Sandy Simonson, Arizona coordinator for the lay group Voice of the Faithful, said diocesan officials "don't even know how to be open communicators." She said church members have been trying to get an accounting of sex abuse costs for years, only to be refused.

"This should be on the diocesan Web site and in the Catholic Sun (the diocesan newspaper)," she said. "But openness and accountability is a foreign concept to them."

The document released Tuesday was prepared by Monsignor Richard Moyer, vicar general and moderator of the Curia, and the Rev. Michael Diskin, assistant chancellor, at Sheehan's direction.

The accounting leaves out several items that other dioceses have included. Among them are living expenses for suspended priests and counseling and treatment for accused priests. In the Archdiocese of Baltimore, for example, those items accounted for almost 20 percent of the $5.7 million total, more than any other category except settlements.

Additional expenses in Phoenix include a permanent youth protection advocate's position and further costs associated with the immunity agreement, such as the expenses of a summit meeting on sexual abuse.

Besides the financial accounting, the diocese also for the first time released a list of 18 priests and former priests "who have had allegations, not all verified, of sexual misconduct with minors." The list corresponds closely with lists of accused priests that The Arizona Republic has maintained.

The diocese list adds one name that The Republic has not reported previously: Sung Lam, a priest from Cambodia. He was accused in 1993 of lewd and lascivious acts, a misdemeanor, but was not prosecuted.

The statement said 1,097 priests have worked in the diocese since its creation, meaning 1.6 percent of the total have been credibly accused of sexual abuse.

Paul Pfaffenberger, local leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the figures "seem low," especially considering that the number of 18 priests falls far short of a number O'Brien used last November.

O'Brien said then that 50 priests, former priests and employees had been accused of sexual misconduct with children but added that many on the list faced "untrue or meritless" allegations.

The diocese's list does not include priests currently living here who were accused of offenses in other dioceses, non-priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors, priests whose offenses predated the formation of the diocese and priests suspended for related reasons such as violation of policy or misconduct with adults.

 
 

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