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  Church Faces Big Financial Hit from Sex-Abuse Cases

By Donna Jones djones@santacruzsentinel.com
Santa Cruz Sentinel [California]
January 28, 2004

The Diocese of Monterey is largely on its own as it faces claims of up to $65 million from plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases, church officials said Tuesday.

But officials told more than 100 people who attended a meeting at Resurrection Church that officials are committed to protecting the assets of parishes and schools.

"The asking price at this period of time is rather astronomical," Bishop Sylvester Ryan said before the meeting. "We want to reach out to victims, but we have a responsibility for our parishes, churches and schools."

The diocese, which covers Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito and San Luis Obispo counties, has seven pending lawsuits, said Susan Mayer, the dioceseís lawyer. There are 13 alleged victims and seven accused priests. Four of the priests are dead.

The only Santa Cruz County case stems from allegations of abuse at St. Johnís Catholic Church in Felton between 1961 and 1968.

The diocese settled an eighth case earlier this month for $760,000. The plaintiff in that case alleged abuse by the Rev. Michael McDonald at St. Maryís in Salinas from 1964 to 1966.

The settlement was paid from a reserve fund, built up over several years from a real estate investment. The payment depleted the fund, but wonít impact parishes and schools, said Tom Riordan, the diocese finance director.

Future settlements will be more difficult, he said.

"Iím hoping the assets we are holding will be enough," he said. "Weíre committed to protecting the assets of parishes and schools."

For the most part, the crowd listened quietly and followed a process of submitting written questions, though one man raised his voice as he asked why the church was stalling in settling with alleged victims.

But Mayer denied that was the aim of a diocesan request filed Monday with the state Judicial Council to assign all Northern California cases to a single judge. The move would allow for a more consistent and efficient process, she said.

Some questions revealed the continuing pain of the scandal.

"I fear in 30 years weíll see cases from 2004," someone wrote. "Why donít I feel safe?"

Ryan urged the crowd to have faith, and acknowledged it would take time to rebuild trust.

He pointed to policies and programs that the church started implementing before the scandals broke, and which have been strengthened since.

"Ihope weíre not talking about this in 30 years," he said. "I hope weíre not talking about this in 20 years. I hope it is all behind us. But Iíve never been through this before. ... I canít make an absolute statement it will never happen again."

After the meeting, Annette Patch of Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz said she was reassured by the steps the church has taken.

"But I feel we need to continue to be vigilant," she said. "Time sometimes wears off the sharp edge of vigilance."

 
 

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