Priest-Abuse Lawsuits Headed for Court Starting in September

The Associated Press, carried in KGW [Oregon]
May 25, 2006

A federal bankruptcy judge has approved a priest-abuse trial schedule that will have the first lawsuit reach court in September.

More than 250 people in Western Oregon have accused Catholic priests and other church and lay officials of sexual abuse, but no lawsuits have reached a jury because most cases are dismissed or settled out of court.

A case was scheduled to go to trial almost two years ago, but it — along with all other pending cases — was put on hold when Portland became the first Catholic Archdiocese to seek bankruptcy protection because of priest-abuse litigation.

The move gave church officials and priest accusers an opportunity to reach a settlement that would end the bankruptcy. Mediation failed, however, and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth L. Perris recently decided to allow cases to go to trial in order to get an idea of what it would cost to settle about 125 priest-abuse claims.

Scheduled for September, the first case involves the Rev. Rocco Perone, a deceased priest who is accused of molesting more than a dozen boys while he worked at St. Philip Neri in Portland from 1951 to 1956.

Trials involving the Rev. Maurice Grammond and the Rev. Thomas Laughlin, Oregon's most prolific pedophile priests, are scheduled for October and January, respectively.

A trial is scheduled in February involving the Rev. Michael Sprauer, who disputes accusations that he molested boys while he was a chaplain at a juvenile jail in Woodburn in the 1970s.

Before filing for bankruptcy, the Portland Archdiocese and its insurers spent $53 million to settle with 130 accusers dating to 1950.

Attorneys for the archdiocese say about $40 million probably will cover the remaining claims. Attorneys for priest accusers disagree. They have not estimated how much it will take to settle the cases, but oppose any cap on payments, saying the church has enough assets to cover all claims.

Church officials dispute what assets they own, and the true value of the archdiocese is unresolved.


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