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  Church to Pay Millions in Abuse Lawsuits
15 Men Who Accused Priest Reach Settlement with Seattle Archdiocese

By Matthew Craft matthewcraft@seattlepi.com
Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Seattle WA]
September 12, 2003

The Archdiocese of Seattle will pay $7.87 million to settle 15 sexual-abuse cases involving the Rev. James McGreal, a former priest at several area parishes, the archdiocese announced yesterday.

Attorneys for the Roman Catholic diocese and plaintiffs for the men who said McGreal abused them when they were boys reached the deal near midnight Wednesday after three days of negotiations.

One of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Michael Pfau, said the victims were swayed to settle by the amount offered and the chance for them to avoid describing their ordeals in court. Most of the men had sued anonymously.

"It's very difficult for victims of sexual abuse to endure the litigation process," Pfau said. "No amount of money can restore their childhood."

The terms of the agreement are confidential, Pfau said. One of the 16 plaintiffs refused to settle. His case is scheduled to go to trial in March.

"He wants to go to trial because he wants to hold the archdiocese accountable," Pfau said.

Court documents say that McGreal, who has never been charged with a crime, may have molested hundreds of children and show that the archdiocese knew of the allegations against him for decades, but allowed him to continue to work as a priest.

Yesterday's announcement of a settlement came two days after the Archdiocese of Boston agreed to pay $85 million to compensate 552 victims -- the largest settlement ever by a diocese to resolve sexual-abuse cases.

The Seattle archdiocese still faces 15 lawsuits, including the one set for trial, according to Dennis O'Leary, its spokesman. He said the archdiocese settled the other 15 suits because a trial would have been difficult for victims.

O'Leary said the archdiocese wanted to take the "pastoral approach" and "promote reconciliation with those who have been victimized."

"I deeply regret the pain caused by these events," Seattle Archbishop Alexander Brunett said in a statement. "This is a positive step to heal their wounds and restore trust for everyone who has been hurt by these regrettable events."

Insurance companies will cover the bulk of the $7.87 million, O'Leary said. About $1 million will come from the archdiocese's self-insurance program.

David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, lauded the settlement as validation for the victims. "The value of hearing someone else say you were harmed, you were hurt, just can't be overstated," he said.

McGreal retired in 1988 after 40 years of working in parishes around the Puget Sound region. He now lives in a locked treatment center for troubled priests in Missouri. His pension and the archdiocese pay for his treatment.

Court records show that the archdiocese knew of allegations against McGreal in the 1960s and that the Rev. Raymond Hunthausen, then the archbishop, found out in 1977.

The men involved in the lawsuits said McGreal preyed on altar boys, showed them pornography and had sex with them. Parents complained of the priest's sexual advances, and the diocese sent him to at least five counselors and restricted his access to children. But the complaints kept piling up.

Although warned by counselors that McGreal should not be around boys, the diocese sent him to St. Anthony in Renton, a parish with a large elementary school. Over a decade, he wound up at what is now Providence Everett Medical Center, Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Port Angeles and St. Theresa's Church in Federal Way.

The archdiocese reported McGreal to the police in the late 1980s, but prosecutors didn't file charges. The statute of limitations had expired, according to an attorney for the archdiocese.

In 1988, the archdiocese started a series of changes to address complaints of sexual abuse by priests, including making the allegations against McGreal public. Since then, O'Leary said, the archdiocese has had a policy of immediately placing on leave any priest accused of sexual abuse and notifying the police.

None of the abuse reported to the archdiocese happened after 1988, when the church began tightening its policies, O'Leary said. He said he hopes the extensive background checks, tougher guidelines and heightened awareness of the problem should help prevent future abuse.

"We pray to God that's the case," he said. "No system is perfect. No person is perfect."

In February, the Seattle Archdiocese revealed that 47 priests had been accused of sexually abusing children and teenagers during the past 50 years. O'Leary emphasized that these included a wide variety of unsubstantiated allegations, including some against priests who had since died and priests who had left the church.

Pfau's firm, Gordon Thomas Honeywell, represents five other men who say McGreal abused them but have yet to decide whether to negotiate with the archdiocese or sue.

P-I reporter Matthew Craft can be reached at 206-448-8126 or matthewcraft@seattlepi.com
 
 
 

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