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  Church Ready to Deal
Denver Archdiocese Hires Mediator to Broker Payouts in Sex-Abuse Cases

By Eric Gorski and Robert Sanchez
Denver Post
May 25, 2006

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_3861645#

The Denver Roman Catholic Archdiocese has hired a prominent mediator to broker financial settlements with 30 people who have filed lawsuits alleging they were sexually abused by priests and revictimized by church officials intent on a coverup.

"We deeply regret the suffering of any victim of childhood sexual abuse," Archbishop Charles Chaput said Wednesday at a news conference at the downtown Denver offices of the Judicial Arbiter Group, headed by former Boulder District Court Judge Richard Dana.

"We offer this mediation because we assume the integrity of all of the persons bringing these lawsuits against the archdiocese," Chaput said.

Archbishop Charles Chaput
Photo by The Post/Hyoung Chang

The archdiocese declined to say how much money is available to alleged clergy-abuse victims, but in letters delivered Wednesday to plaintiffs' attorneys, Dana referred to it as a "substantial sum."

This is not the first time the archdiocese has offered mediation to the plaintiffs, whose lawsuits focus on decades-old allegations against two former Denver priests: Harold Robert White, defrocked in 2003, and the late Rev. Leonard Abercrombie.

Jeffrey Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., lawyer who represents 11 accusers of White, said the reasons for rejecting the first offer still apply. Unless the archdiocese opens its personnel files on accused priests and reveals perpetrators' names, there is no reason to discuss a settlement, he said.

"This isn't just about making a financial resolution, this is about prevention and healing and protection of others," Anderson said. "I'm suspicious of this and that they're doing it the way they are. It might be an attempt to continue to keep secrets and put pressure on the plaintiffs."

The archdiocese's renewed mediation effort comes just weeks after Colorado Catholic officials staged a high-profile, expensive and ultimately successful campaign to defeat legislation that would have made it easier for victims of child sexual abuse to sue churches and other private institutions.


Richard Dana

Former Boulder Chief District Judge Richard Dana has mediated several high-profile cases in Colorado, including settlements with families of Columbine High School shooting victims and between Denver and the family of Paul Childs, the developmentally disabled teen who was shot and killed by a Denver police officer in 2003.

He co-founded the firm Judicial Arbiter Group Inc. with 20th Judicial District Administrator Jerry D. Lockwood in 1984. The group's 20 mediators and arbiters all have experience as federal or state judges.

Other U.S. dioceses that have offered mediation to child sex- abuse victims include Albany, N.Y., Milwaukee and Cincinnati.

Chaput conceded Wednesday that he was uncertain whether anyone would accept the diocese's "goodwill effort." The mediation is not binding, and victims can walk away at any point.

Dana, who is not Catholic, was approached by the archdiocese three weeks ago with the chance to add to a resume that includes roles in negotiating settlements with victims of the Columbine High School massacre and the family of Paul Childs, a developmentally disabled boy shot by a Denver cop in 2003.

Dana said he was told he "can have access to virtually anything we want through the archdiocese." "I wanted to make sure that we get the information that we need to make decisions," he said.

Joining Dana on the mediation panel are Heather Coogan, a former Denver deputy police chief and now chief of police at the Auraria Higher Education Campus; and John "Jack" Dahlberg, a certified rehabilitation specialist who has testified in sexual-abuse cases.

Dana's group charges $350 an hour, to be paid from archdiocese funds.

Victims have 90 days to request mediation, and the archdiocese hopes to settle all claims within five months.

Dana wrote that the panel will not weigh whether the claims might be barred by statutes

of limitations but instead will focus on "fair compensation and healing for each plaintiff." While mediation discussions are to be confidential, any party may divulge the settlement terms, in keeping with 2002 reforms by U.S. bishops that did away with confidential settlement pacts.

Neither archdiocese leaders nor church lawyers will participate in the mediation, Dana wrote.

Archdiocese officials asked Dana to work independently from the church and gave the group power to choose payout amounts. Dana said any settlement likely would not include an admission of guilt.

Asked about releasing information in personnel files of accused priests, Chaput said Wednesday that he would not make that information public but said the archdiocese would "respond best we can" to any requests the panel makes for the information.

Lawyers, victims' advocates and the men accusing the Colorado priests were skeptical of the mediation offer, but many were willing to listen.

"Any meaningful resolution of these cases should involve the Archdiocese of Denver disclosing what they knew and when about their priests," said Adam Horowitz, a lawyer with a Miami firm that has 19 pending lawsuits against the archdiocese.

Roger Colburn of Strasburg, who filed a lawsuit last year accusing Abercrombie of molesting him on a camping trip 36 years ago, said he is inclined to follow the advice of his lawyers but has mixed feelings.

"If I believed (archdiocese officials) were about helping people with abuse, I would have sat down with them before," Colburn said. "... If they want to sit down and hammer something out, maybe it could be for the good."

Brandon Trask of California, the first person to publicly accuse White in a Denver Post story last year, said that although he wants to see White's file, he would walk away without it for $4 million to $8 million.

Jeb Barrett, the Denver leader for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said in a statement: "Like most of his colleagues, Archbishop Chaput desperately fears having to disclose, under oath and in open court, how much he knows and how little he's done about pedophile priests. That's why he offers mediation."

Staff writer Eric Gorski can be reached at 303-820-1698 or egorski@denverpost.com.

Staff writer Robert Sanchez can be reached at 303-820-1282 or rsanchez@denverpost.com.


Richard Dana

Former Boulder Chief District Judge Richard Dana has mediated several high-profile cases in Colorado, including settlements with families of Columbine High School shooting victims and between Denver and the family of Paul Childs, the developmentally disabled teen who was shot and killed by a Denver police officer in 2003.

He co-founded the firm Judicial Arbiter Group Inc. with 20th Judicial District Administrator Jerry D. Lockwood in 1984. The group's 20 mediators and arbiters all have experience as federal or state judges.

 
 

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