Lawyer: Church Trying to Get off 'Cheaply'

By Kimball Perry
The Cincinnati Post [Cincinnati OH]
Downloaded January 17, 2004

The $3 million pot of money the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has agreed to set aside to compensate victims of priest sex abuse lets the church get off "cheaply," a lawyer representing accusers noted today in a filing that also attacked prosecutors.

Cincinnati attorney Janet Abaray filed a motion today, asking Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Niehaus -- who presided over the archdiocese's November conviction for failing to report sexual abuse by priests -- to give her clients access to archdiocese documents. Those documents, she said, could prove the settlement was a "cover up," or are needed to determine if the $3 million settlement is "fair, reasonable and adequate."

"(T)he settlement could potentially be an expedient means by which the state ended its criminal investigation in exchange for a hushed-up ending to the archdiocese's civil exposure," Abaray wrote in today's filing.

"We're not aware of this," archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said today.

Prosecutor Mike Allen was in a death penalty trial and unavailable for comment today.

Abaray is asking the judge to stop the clock ticking on the deadline for accusers to file for eligibility in the settlement pool. The settlement Allen's office made with the archdiocese in November calls for the formation of a three-member panel to oversee the money, determine who is eligible and how the money is to be dispersed. The deadline is 180 days after the panel is formed. The third member was named in December.

Accusers can either continue with their suits or drop their suits and be eligible for money from the $3 million pool -- but not both.

Abaray's request comes as accusers and their attorneys have had their suits dismissed in Hamilton County because judges consistently have ruled the suits make allegations decades ago, long after the statute of limitations has expired.

She made a public records request to Allen's office Dec. 1 to review documents in the criminal case against the archdiocese but hasn't been given that access.

Most of those documents already had been returned to the archdiocese, she was told, and she believes the archdiocese will continue to be as obstructionist as possible in attempts to review their documents.

Prosecutors and the archdiocese had a very public fight before the settlement, with Allen accusing archdiocese attorneys of not cooperating with the investigation by withholding or fighting to withhold documents.

"(Accusers) have been unable to assess the ability of the defendant Archdiocese to create a larger settlement fund, the number of potential claimants to the fund, the degree of culpability of the defendant Archdiocese, or the facts giving rise to the criminal plea agreement," today's filing noted.

Accusers need to see all of the archdiocese documents, it added, to make an educated determination on if they will participate in the $3 million fund or seek compensation through the courts. Abaray also suggests the archdiocese agreed to the $3 million pot of money to "cheaply terminate" the civil liability of the suits.

Abaray noted other dioceses across the country haven't been as cheap at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in paying victims:

The Boston Archdiocese agreed to settle accusations by paying $85 million after it already had agreed to a $10 million settlement;

Chicago's Archdiocese agreed to pay $4 million to just four victims;

Louisville's Archdiocese agreed to a $25.7 million.

The archdiocese criminal conviction is proof, Abaray noted, that her clients' claims that they were abused by then-priest John Berning and the archdiocese was told of the abuse but did nothing to stop it or prevent further abuse.

"In fact," she wrote, "the Archdiocese apparently pled no contest in part (to criminal charges) to avoid the results of an appellate hearing which may have caused public disclosure of incriminating information."

Allen's office did her clients -- and other accusers -- no favors, Abaray noted.

"(B)ecause the settlement agreement was reached in a very short amount of time and contains terms that are greatly skewed in favor of the archdiocese, it appears that the settlement negotiations greatly benefited the archdiocese rather than the victims for whom the settlement purports to provide relief," she noted.


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