Mediator in Church Abuse Case to Begin Work Soon

Associated Press, carried in Beacon Journal [Covington KY]
Downloaded May 30, 2004

COVINGTON, Ky. - The mediator hired to help settle the nation's first class-action lawsuit against a Roman Catholic diocese over claims of sexual abuse by its priests said his first task will be to meet separately with both sides.

Kenneth Feinberg, currently the administrator of the government fund for Sept. 11 victims, said he hopes to hold those meetings over the next few weeks. His duties with the Sept. 11 fund end June 15.

Feinberg has successfully mediated litigation involving Agent Orange, silicone breast implants, heart valves, tobacco and asbestos before being chosen to facilitate out-of-court talks involving the Diocese of Covington.

Feinberg said he believes his experience with the Sept. 11 fund led to his selection.

Both cases involve emotional issues, he said. He said he doesn't know the details of the case against the diocese, but he may have a perspective that others don't.

"The biggest obstacle to the Sept. 11 fund was the emotion of the families," he said. "We overcame it - over 98 percent of eligible families signed in."

The lawsuit against the diocese, certified as a class action in October, was filed on behalf of alleged molestation victims since 1956 and claims the diocese mishandled their accusations. Plaintiffs' lawyers say they are representing at least 110 victims.

Feinberg was asked to mediate the case in response to an order from Senior Judge John Potter, who asked attorneys for a plan to resolve the case out of court.

Chicago attorney Carrie Huff, who is representing the diocese in the class action and other priest-abuse lawsuits, said Feinberg is an effective mediator.

"Rather than posturing in court, we're actually sitting down to identify some of the obstacles and what we can do to resolve them," she said.

Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley, who represents the plaintiffs, said his clients want to move toward a resolution. However, he said there is no guarantee the mediation will work.

Huff said she sees the mediation as an opportunity to "extend the reconciliation process" to victims who have not come directly to the diocese.

Seventy alleged victims have opted out of the lawsuit, Huff said, and the diocese is actively negotiating settlements with about 15.


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