Church Pays $8 Million More
Costs of Sex Abuse Cases in Archdiocese of Seattle Rise by Almost Half
By Steve Maynard
The News Tribune [Washington]
March 31, 2006
The Catholic archdiocese covering Tacoma and all of Western Washington reported Thursday that its costs for dealing with clergy sex abuse cases soared by nearly 50 percent – about $8 million – last year.
As a result, the church dipped into a reserve fund for the first time to help pay abuse costs.
The total spent by the Archdiocese of Seattle on clergy sex abuse since 1987 increased to $26 million last year as cases were settled and new accusations surfaced.
The archdiocese tapped its reserve fund because cumulative costs in sex abuse cases exceeded its self-insurance program, said spokesman Greg Magnoni.
While he said he didn't know the exact amount, Magnoni said the reserve fund – from the sale of church property more than 20 years ago – paid only a small fraction of the $8 million in abuse costs last year.
The archdiocese's self-insurance program – another type of reserve – was used to pay settlement costs beyond those covered by parishes' insurance.
The archdiocese remains financially solid, Magnoni said.
During 2005, the archdiocese received a total of six new accusations of child sex abuse against six previously accused priests, Magnoni said.
In addition, 12 members of the Congregation of Christian Brothers religious order were accused of abuse. Those accusations, made in lawsuits, center around the Christian Brothers' Briscoe Memorial School for Boys, a boarding school the brothers operated in Kent until the early 1970s.
All new accusations date from 1955 to the mid-1980s, Magnoni said. The accused priests and brothers are either deceased, removed from ministry or defrocked. No additional priests in the archdiocese were accused, Magnoni said.
The Seattle archdiocese released the figures in conjunction with a national update on clergy abuse numbers.
For the third consecutive year, an independent audit found the archdiocese had taken all the steps required by the U.S. Catholic bishops to protect children.
From 1950-2005, 53 priests working in the Seattle archdiocese were accused of sex abuse, Mag-noni said. In February 2005, the archdiocese reported 52 priests but updated it later in the year.
That number doesn't include the 12 Christian Brothers from the now-defunct Kent school because they were under the authority of their New York-based order.
The archdiocese is still waiting to hear on the cases of two inactive accused priests in the archdiocese being reviewed by the Vatican.
A total of 202 people have made allegations of clergy sex abuse in the archdiocese since 1950. Several priests had multiple accusers.
The $26 million paid out covers costs of financial settlements with victims, counseling and attorneys' fees. The Seattle archdiocese has avoided the financial problems that caused the Spokane and Portland dioceses to file for bankruptcy.
The Seattle archdiocese has an estimated 904,000 Catholics.
In a news release put out Thursday, Seattle Archbishop Alex J. Brunett again apologized to victims.
"I am aware of their pain and I reaffirm my personal commitment to provide counseling and pastoral care to every victim in order to heal the wounds of abuse and bring closure to all who have been harmed," Brunett said.
Bill O'Grady, a member of St. John Bosco Catholic Church in Lakewood, said he wasn't surprised to hear the cost of dealing with sex abuse cases has skyrocketed.
"Anytime you've got attorneys involved, they're going to go after deep pockets," said O'Grady, 60, of Steilacoom.
While he sympathizes with those who have been abused, O'Grady worries that someday legal settlements could take away money for much-needed church feeding and other social programs.
Magnoni said settlements of pending cases will determine whether the diocese needs to dip further into reserves. He said the church will continue paying the costs of sex abuse cases without using general operating funds or parish monies.
"As long as we continue to make settlements for fair and reasonable amounts, which we have for the past 18 years," Magnoni said, "there's no reason we shouldn't be able to cover the costs associated with sexual abuse."
He added: "Certainly there's no reason for concern right now that we would have to seek bankruptcy protection as some of our neighboring dioceses have."
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647
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