$50 Million Sought in Spokane Sex-Abuse Crisis
By Nicholas K. Geranios
The Associated Press, carried in Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Spokane WA]
May 21, 2004
SPOKANE -- The financial scope of the child sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic Diocese of Spokane became apparent this week when a group of victims filed court documents seeking more than $50 million in damages.
The 26 plaintiffs represented by attorney Tim Kosnoff constitute only about half the people who have filed lawsuits against the diocese, alleging decades of abuse of children by priests.
"The diocese is facing very, very large liabilities," Kosnoff said. "That's what happens when you have so many victims."
The documents are called statements of damages and are required for such lawsuits, he said.
Mike Geraghty, attorney for the diocese, said the damages sought are extremely high.
He noted the Boston archdiocese recently settled with some 500 victims for about $85 million.
"It would put the diocese out of business if judgments were rendered against the diocese," Geraghty said of the claims.
Kosnoff's lawsuits cover only victims of former priest Patrick O'Donnell, and seek between $51 and $57 million in damages, he said.
O'Donnell, who now lives in the Seattle area, has publicly apologized to his victims, according to his attorney, John Bergman.
"If his conduct caused harm to anyone, he is sincerely apologetic for it," Bergman has said.
In a recent report to parishioners, the diocese said that as of April 27, it faced 15 lawsuits involving 48 plaintiffs.
There are also 17 other claims of abuse for which lawsuits have not been filed.
Some cases are scheduled to go to trial in November.
"Our legal team's best estimate is that the total litigation cost to the diocese may well be several million dollars," the report said.
"That does not include any amounts which may be required to resolve these cases either through settlements or trial."
Kosnoff also filed two additional lawsuits yesterday on behalf of two women who said they were sexually abused by priests.
In one case, the plaintiff was a 6-year-old girl in the late 1960s when she says she was molested by a priest.
The other case involves a woman who says she was molested by a different priest in the 1970s at Assumption Parish School when she was between the ages of 11 and 16, Kosnoff said.
"What is unusual about these cases is that the victims are females," Kosnoff said. "So much of the story has focused on male pedophiliac activity.
"It demonstrates a complete breakdown of the supervision of the priesthood," he said.
Geraghty said the diocese knew about both claims and the two men had been removed from ministry.