Diocese Settles 5 More Cases
By Dustin Lemmon
Quad-City Times [Iowa]
February 17, 2006
The Catholic Diocese of Davenport has agreed to pay $870,000 to settle five child molestation cases filed against four priests.
Davenport attorney Craig Levien, who represents the five abuse victims, said Thursday that the settlement raises the total amount of compensation paid by the diocese in cases of abuse by members of the clergy to more than $10 million. He said about 50 percent of that has been paid by insurance companies.
The settlements were reached this week through mediation, which allowed the plaintiffs to avoid going to trial before a judge or jury.
The four priests named in the cases settled this week are William Wiebler and Francis Bass, who have been accused in previous cases, and two deceased priests who previously had not been publicly identified, Raymond Kalter and Herman Bongers.
Bongers was accused of abusing a boy at the former St. Vincent's Orphanage in Davenport, and Kalter was accused of molesting a boy at St. Alphonsus Parish in Davenport. Both alleged incidents happened during the 1960s.
Rand Wonio, a Davenport attorney representing the diocese, said Kalter's name had not previously been released by the diocese because he is dead and could not defend himself against the allegations. He said the case against Bongers was not disclosed because the allegations were disputed and some of the claims dated to before 1950.
Bass and Wiebler were accused in separate cases. Bass allegedly abused a boy during the 1950s at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Clinton, Iowa, and Wiebler allegedly abused a boy during the mid-1970s at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Bettendorf, Levien said.
Last year, Davenport Bishop William Franklin ordered both Bass and Wiebler to not: have any contact with youth, celebrate sacraments in public, wear a Roman collar or present themselves as priests in public, among other things.
Levien said there still are four lawsuits and eight mediation cases pending against the diocese. Those cases do not involve any previously unidentified priests, he added.
The cases that have gone to mediation allow the victims to avoid going public with details of the abuse, he said, but they also prevent the plaintiffs from: interviewing diocese officials under oath, getting subpoenas and taking depositions under oath.
With less evidence, the amount of compensation victims can receive is reduced, Levien said. In some cases against the diocese that have gone to a judge or jury, he noted, the awards have been more than $1 million.
"It's a tough bargaining procedure when the diocese continues to use every argument available, including the statute of limitations," he said. "The statute of limitations continues to be a legal hurdle that reduces the full compensation these men can receive."
Wonio said the diocese prefers mediation because it is less stressful. He does not think the plaintiffs would accept the settlements if they were not satisfied with the offers.
"The payments are generally in line with the same ones made at the end of 2004," he said, referring to the abuse cases settled more than a year ago.
Wonio said the diocese took the victims into consideration when reaching each settlement. He said there is one more mediation case that could be settled next week.
"I think the diocese is happy to settle the cases in mediation," he added. "If it helps bring closure to the victims sooner, than that makes the diocese happy."
Dustin Lemmon can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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