Class-Action Suit Set to Proceed against Kentucky Diocese

By Ellen R. Stapleton
Boston Globe [Louisville KY]
January 31, 2004

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A class-action lawsuit over sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests is moving forward in Kentucky, with plaintiffs' lawyers expecting to represent as many as 500 people following a deadline today.

The lawsuit, certified as a class action by a judge last October, was filed on behalf of alleged molestation victims in the Diocese of Covington since 1956. It alleges the diocese mishandled claims against its clergymen.

Church leaders are fighting the litigation, and working to settle cases out of court. By today, potential plaintiffs must have opted out of the class-action suit if they want to sue the church on their own -- otherwise, they'll be included in the suit and will lose the right to bring cases individually.

The diocese said it has received 158 reports of abuse and, since September, has settled with 39 people for a total of $8.3 million, according to Carrie Huff, an attorney representing the diocese.

"Each of these resolutions was achieved through personal outreach and dialogue with the victims, and with as much attention to the victims' spiritual needs as to their financial needs," Huff said.

"Bishop [Roger] Foys and the diocese are fully committed to this process of listening and being present for victims and their families, as well as to resolution of their claims." A trial date has not been set, but pretrial proceedings are scheduled for early February.

The Catholic-rich region was hit hard by the clergy abuse crisis that erupted two years ago in the Archdiocese of Boston and spread throughout the country.

In the Archdiocese of Louisville, a $25.7 million settlement was reached with 243 victims in June. And on the other side of the Ohio River, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati agreed in November to establish a $3 million victim compensation fund.

The class-action suit is seeking to accomplish more, by forcing the diocese to implement reforms, according to a plaintiffs' attorney, Robert Steinberg of Cincinnati.

Those changes would include psychological screening of all priests, opening diocesan records of abuse reports, hiring an outside monitor for abuse cases, and starting a formal program for employees and parishioners to report incidents to diocesan authorities.


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