Yuma Brothers to Be Among First Compensated in Abuse Cases

KVOA [Tucson AZ]
December 1, 2004

A bankruptcy judge approved an agreement Tuesday that would allow three Yuma brothers to be among the first sexual abuse victims to be compensated in the Catholic Diocese of Tucson's bankruptcy court case.

The settlement reached between attorneys for the diocese and the brothers, who were victimized by a now-imprisoned priest when they were 9, 11 and 14 years old, doesn't address or resolve how much money each would receive.

But under it, attorneys for the diocese and the three plaintiffs as well as nearly two dozen other plaintiffs with pending lawsuits agreed that the youths will be placed in the top tier, or most serious category, of claims.

Their parents, including their mother, who is terminally ill, would be classified under the plan in a separate, lower tier of claims.

"This is just a beginning of a resolution," said attorney Jerry Shelley of Yuma, one of the unnamed family's lawyers. "This has nothing to do with whether the cases are going to be resolved."

The issue of diocesan assets and how much money the diocese is worth and will be able to pay plaintiffs with sex abuse claims has not been addressed yet.

Plaintiffs insist that some 75 parishes are part of the diocese, but Bishop Gerald Kicanas maintains that they are separate.

Eleven parishes have been named individually in lawsuits and would be liable in eventual settlement payouts, said Lynne Cadigan, another lawyer for the Yuma family. "Even if they're not part of the diocese, they're on the hook," she said.

Her law partner, Kim Williamson, said there was agreement that nobody will get any more money than the three boys.

Susan Boswell, chief bankruptcy lawyer for the diocese, said the agreement is important because "it provides a framework by which claims can be allowed as far as tiers they would be in on a consensual basis" for those who sued before the Sept. 20 bankruptcy protection filing.

That means "they won't have to go through any further proceedings to determine the validity of the claims," Boswell said.

The brothers, now 15, 17 and 20, and other plaintiffs are considered creditors whom the diocese must compensate.

A civil trial had been scheduled to begin in late September in Yuma County Superior Court over allegations that the Rev. Juan Guillen had molested the three boys between 1996 and 2002, but the bankruptcy filing halted those proceedings. Guillen is serving a prison term for attempted child molestation.

Shelley said the three boys had suffered severe emotional and psychological damage." Williamson characterized the abuse they were subjected to as "some of the most egregious."

The diocese sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the face of continuing litigation over claims of sexual abuse by priests.

Its filing was the second by a diocese; the Archdiocese of Portland (Ore.) filed in July.

The Tucson Diocese's proposed reorganization plan, not yet approved, calls for four categories of claimants, based on their legal validity, presence or absence of statutes of limitation, the degree of seriousness of the misconduct claimed and the extent of damages to the victim.

There will be no Yuma civil trial if the parties come to an eventual agreement on how much the diocese is to pay.


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