Emotions High As Archdiocese, 68 Plaintiffs Begin Crucial Talks
By Steve Woodward
The Oregonian [Oregon]
August 8, 2005
James Devereaux, then a 13-year-old altar boy in Oakridge, says the late Rev. Maurice Grammond coerced him 40 years ago into engaging in various sexual acts, including oral sex. Devereaux is suing for $25.8 million.
Kenneth Nail, then a 16-year-old inmate at what was then known as the MacLaren School for Boys, says the late Rev. Remy Rudin forced him to have anal intercourse. Nail is suing for $10.8 million.
And Peter Carlich, then a 16-year-old altar boy in Tillamook, says the late Rev. Gerald Dezurick molested him in about 1960, then fabricated a story that persuaded his parents to commit the boy to a mental institution to cure homosexuality. Carlich is suing for $10.2 million.
Today, Carlich, a 59-year-old marine contractor from Lincoln County, echoes other plaintiffs when he says it's not about the money.
"I seek justice, a closure," says Carlich, who recently decided to go public with his 45-year-old secret. "Yes, I know there will be some money out of it. But at this point in my life, that's not a huge deal.
"We were innocent little boys, and they (the priests) knew what they were doing."
These and 63 other child sexual-abuse claims against the Archdiocese of Portland are scheduled to enter much-anticipated settlement talks starting today and continuing through mid-September. Two additional cases in mediation allege intentional infliction of emotional distress rather than child sex abuse, although the allegations contain sexual elements.
The 68 claimants entering mediation seek more than $200 million in compensatory damages.
Claims total 249
Mounting sex-abuse claims forced the Portland archdiocese into bankruptcy in July 2004. The bankruptcy froze pending lawsuits, but the claims nevertheless continued to pile up to a total of 249. That number is expected to decline after duplicate and inproperly filed claims are weeded out.
The mediations are crucial to the future course of the bankruptcy, which is being scrutinized as the nation's first and largest bankruptcy of a Roman Catholic diocese.
Successful mediations would accomplish several things: First, they would go a long way toward resolving hundreds of millions of dollars in current claims. Second, they would help establish the approximate value of future claims -- those claims that certain victims, for various reasons, weren't able to file by the April deadline.
Once the value of current and future claims is established, the archdiocese can propose a plan of reorganization by the bankruptcy court's Nov. 15 deadline. If approved, the archdiocese could begin to emerge from bankruptcy as early as January.
"We believe it is a good process that may bring healing and closure," archdiocese spokesman Bud Bunce said of the mediations. "Archbishop (John G.) Vlazny is committed to fair and just compensation and is hopeful that the upcoming mediation will be successful."
Until the bankruptcy filing, the archdiocese had settled more than 133 claims for $53 million. Many claims were resolved in two major mediation sessions in 2000 and 2003.
That averages out to about $400,000 a claim -- an amount the archdiocese says it expects to be much lower in the current round of settlements.
Charged with emotion
Whether the archdiocese can get claimants to accept lower settlements is an open question, given the emotionally charged nature of the claims.
One of the cases coming up for mediation, for example, was filed in 2001 on behalf of a now 29-year-old former Portland man who alleges that Grammond, who was accused of abusing more than 50 boys, coerced him into engaging in various sexual acts over several months. He was about 8 at the time.
The unidentified man, who goes by C.B., sought $125 million in punitive damages in his lawsuit -- money meant to punish the archdiocese for failing to prevent Grammond from committing the abuse. The case was set to go to jury trial on the morning the archdiocese declared bankruptcy.
In the mediation, C.B. will be able to negotiate only over compensation for economic, medical and psychological damage -- in his case, more than $10 million in claims. If he wishes to pursue punitive damages, he must reject a settlement and take his case to a jury trial.
Some claimants may insist on trials.
"When all this broke in 2002," said David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, "we began to hear from a number of survivors who had settled and said, 'If I had known all this, I would have gone to trial.' There's really a desire to set the record straight and show the extent of corruption of the (church's) hierarchy. A small but growing number of survivors want their day in court."
If a claimant wants to settle, setting a value on a sexual-abuse claim is a tough proposition, says Paul A. Finn, one of the nation's premier mediators of clergy sex-abuse cases and the man who brokered the $85 million settlement between the Archdiocese of Boston and 552 sex-abuse plaintiffs.
"There's no amount of money that could compensate these folks for what they've gone through," Finn said. "You just have to tell them this is best they can do as far as the negotiations go."
The four mediators in the Portland case are retired Washington County Circuit Judge Alan C. Bonebrake, former U.S. Attorney Sid Lezak, Helen B. Preddy of Minnesota-based United States Arbitration and Mediation, and Edward Leavy, a senior judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The mediators' jobs will be made harder by the emotion that infuses the issue of child sexual abuse. Finn says there's no way to keep emotion out of such negotiations.
"The way I see the dynamic, the victim is given an opportunity to tell someone other than their lawyer and other than the archdiocese what happened to them," Finn said. "And that's good."
Case by case
One of those 68 people telling their stories will be Peter Carlich, whose parents were devout Catholics who belonged to Sacred Heart Parish in Tillamook, sent their children to Catholic schools and took the family to the annual sausage feed hosted by the Knights of Columbus.
As an altar boy, Carlich and other boys went to the rectory on Sunday mornings to don their black and white serving vestments. The Rev. Gerald Dezurick, who was new to the parish, would come over to check on their clothes.
"Father Gerald touched me on the butt, caressing it softly," Carlich says. "You could tell something was not right."
Dezurick continually cracked inappropriate sexual jokes about "queers."
One Friday evening, after dinner with his parents and Dezurick, Carlich said he excused himself to go upstairs to his room and rest after pulling a leg muscle in basketball practice. Father Gerald, the high school basketball coach, soon followed.
Sitting on the edge of the bed and afraid to protest, Carlich let Dezurick rub the front of his thigh with sports balm. Dezurick instructed him to lie on the bed. The priest began to work the back of the boy's thigh. He then touched Carlich's genitalia and became sexually aroused.
At that point, Carlich said, he asked him to stop. Dezurick composed himself, went downstairs and left. The next weekend, the same thing happened.
The following Saturday night, Carlich found himself alone with Dezurick at the mission in Cloverdale, where he was to help the priest celebrate Mass the next morning. Dezurick poured each of them a glass of Mogen David wine he had brought in from the trunk of his car.
The priest asked whether Carlich liked having his genitalia touched. No, Father Gerald, the boy said, embarrassed.
Carlich began to feel groggy and tired. The boy stripped down to a T-shirt and underwear and crawled under the covers of his cot. He remembered nothing until the next morning -- when he awoke with a massive headache and his underwear off.
"I had a feeling of dread," he said. "Something had happened. Something bad had happened."
They returned to Tillamook in silence.
The next evening, Dezurick dropped by the Carlich house to have a private talk with the boy's parents. After the priest left, Carlich said his father confronted him. Father Gerald said you came to his bed wanting sex, his father said.
"I denied it," Carlich said, "and they didn't believe me."
Dezurick insisted the boy had a problem with his sexual identity. Soon, Carlich said, he found himself interned in a psychiatric unit for more than two months.
He says his experience destroyed his relationships with women.
"I was constantly trying to prove my sexuality," he said. "I was a whore."
Two marriages unraveled, but he has been in a stable relationship for the past eight years.
In 2002, when he started seeing news about the cases of clergy sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston, he began to recall the night he spent in the Cloverdale rectory with Dezurick, who died in 1986.
"I didn't think it would affect me at the time," he said. "The cause and effect wasn't clear until recently."
Categories of claimants
Carlich is one of many claimants who fall into a controversial category that the archdiocese has challenged: people who remember their childhood sexual abuse but only later connected it with adult problems such as addictions.
In an Aug. 5 column in the Catholic Sentinel, Archbishop Vlazny wrote that he considers some of the current claims questionable.
Noting that the mediations are confidential, Bunce elaborated on Vlazny's comments without discussing individual claims.
"In general, there are cases in which living priests have adamantly denied the allegations brought against them," Bunce told The Oregonian in an e-mail. "In these and other cases, the credibility of evidence is questionable. We are doing our best to arrive at the truth and to fairly compensate legitimate claimants."
Bunce said the archbishop has expressed his commitment to helping victims heal from their abuse.
"We believe," Bunce said, "the mediation process is an important step in this healing."