Sex-Abuse Cost to Diocese: $16.3 Million and Counting
The Church Is Still Adding up the Bills It Has Paid to Lawyers to Defend against Lawsuits

By Richard C. Dujardin
Providence Journal [Providence RI]
February 27, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- On the eve of a long-awaited national survey on the extent of the sexual-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, the Diocese of Providence offered some new numbers yesterday on the cost of the scandal to the local church over the last several decades.

In a published insert in The Providence Journal and Providence Visitor, the diocese said it had paid out about $15.6 million in settlements to people who filed sexual-abuse claims, and an additional $764,000 thus far to cover their out-of-pocket expenses for therapy.

But Monsignor Paul D. Theroux, the diocesan moderator of the curia, said the $16.3-million total doesn't represent the full cost of the scandal, since it does not include the significant legal fees paid to lawyers who worked to defend the diocese against lawsuits.

Michael F. Sabatino, the diocese's finance officer, said the diocese is still sorting through its bills and records to determine what legal costs are associated with sexual-abuse cases, in hopes of being reimbursed by insurance companies.

"We haven't come to a final figure yet, but I'm comfortable in saying that [the legal bills associated with sexual abuse] are in the millions of dollars," Sabatino said.

Yesterday's disclosures came a week after the Providence Diocese disclosed, for the first time, that it had received what it considered to be credible reports that 162 minors had been sexually abused by priests here since 1950.

It said roughly 4 percent of the 1,200 priests who have served in the Providence Diocese since 1950 -- 49 diocesan and 7 religious-order priests -- had been accused of sexual abuse during that period, including 5 priests who were described as responsible for one-third of all the abuse cases in Rhode Island.

The release of yesterday's report also came as representatives from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York were preparing to unveil this morning the results of a study on how many clergy sexual-abuse cases have come to the attention of Catholic officials since 1950.

The national survey will reveal that about 4 percent of clerics have been accused of molesting minors since 1950, the Associated Press reported last night out of the Diocese of Yakima, Wash.

That diocese, in a news release, said the survey had found that of the 109,694 clergy who served over that five-decade period, 4,392 faced allegations of abuse.

Dioceses nationwide received 10,667 abuse claims since 1950, according to the Yakima diocese news release. Of those, claims by 6,700 were substantiated. Another 3,300 were not investigated because the accused clergymen were dead.

The rest of the claims proved to be unsubstantiated, the Yakima diocese said.

The Diocese of Fall River announced last Friday that 32 out of a total of 1,353 priests had been accused of sexually abusing 216 minors during the last 54 years. Former priest James Porter was involved in 131 incidents while serving as a priest at St. Mary Church in North Attleboro, and at other parishes. The Fall River Diocese said the sexual-abuse scandal had cost $16 million so far.

Monsignor Theroux said yesterday that the Providence Diocese hopes to recover a "significant portion" of its legal costs from three insurance companies that covered the diocese at various periods during the last half-century.

The challenge, he said, has been to sort through the accusations to figure out which insurance company was providing coverage at the time of each incident.

To ensure that payouts to the 37 people involved in the $14.5-million settlement were distributed in a timely manner, the diocese used $2.5 million from a self-insurance fund and secured an $11.5-million line of credit from local banks a year ago.

Since then, the diocese has paid back $5.5 million of the loan, using some of the $7 million it received from the sale last year of the bishop's summer residence at Watch Hill in Westerly.

But officials said yesterday that more needs to be done to pay off loans and replenish accounts. At the very least, the diocese plans to put three other properties up for sale, including:

A large house on Block Island that originally served as the rectory for St. Andrew Church, but which over the last two decades was used as a summer-vacation spot for diocesan priests. Under an arrangement that was in place until last summer, priests were able to request use of the house, for themselves and their relatives, for a modest rental fee. "It was good for their morale and a chance to get away," Sabatino said. "I know there will be many priests who are going to be disappointed to learn that the house will not be available. But that's how it is. The house was not ministry-related."

Sabatino said the house is still being appraised. The diocese has not yet determined an asking price.

A caretaker's house, sitting on 2 acres opposite the site of the former Our Lady of Providence seminary, on Warwick Neck. While the diocese has no intention of selling the seminary, also known to many Rhode Islanders as the Aldrich Mansion, it is willing to sell the caretaker's house, at a price to be determined.

A vacant parcel at the Coventry-East Greenwich line that is zoned residential. Hoping to get it rezoned for commercial use, the diocese plans on putting the land on the market as early as next week, for $600,000.

The diocese insert included an accounting of all expenditures from the diocese Catholic Charity Fund, and from the general fund, to various agencies, as well as an expression of "deepest sorrow and apologies" from Bishop Robert E. Mulvee.

The financial report reiterates that none of the money used to settle sexual-abuse claims came from parish contributions, the Catholic Charity Fund Appeal or the Vision of Hope Campaign. "However," it adds, "it should be noted that the Catholic Charity Fund Appeal assists in excess of 200,000 Rhode Islanders annually through 40 agencies and it is possible that some individuals who reported that they had been victims of sexual abuse by clergy have been assisted for other personal needs by these agencies. This assistance was distinct from any settlement or therapy expense."

"While we cannot change history," the bishop wrote, "we can make certain that it does not repeat itself."

Still unresolved are complaints from 43 other people who have come forward during the last two years with new accusations of sexual abuse, nearly all of them for incidents beyond the statute of limitations for filing a court complaint.

Diocesan officials say they are trying to implement a policy whereby those who have lodged complaints can receive therapy and lump-sum payments of $25,000, or, as an alternative, the opportunity to make their cases in front of an independent arbitrator. The arbitrator would be able to award as little as $10,000 or as much as $50,000.

Monsignor Theroux said that if all 40 of those represented by lawyers were to receive settlements of $50,000, the cost to the diocese would be $2 million.

Along with the national survey being released today, the national review board appointed by Catholic bishops nearly two years ago to monitor their efforts will issue a report on some of the possible reasons for the scandal.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


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