Sex-Abuse Suits against Orlando Diocese Settled

By Mark I. Pinsky
Orlando Sentinel
July 20, 2006

Two lawsuits alleging sex abuse in the 1970s by an Orlando Catholic priest have been settled, an attorney said Wednesday.

The cases were among 14 in Florida that were settled, said Miami attorney Jeffrey Herman, who represented all the plaintiffs.

Herman said the cases against the Diocese of Orlando were settled for $250,000.

Diocese spokeswoman Carol Brinati would not release additional details about the settlement but said it was reached more than a month ago and the total was less than $250,000.

Both lawsuits claimed the diocese knew about allegations of sexual abuse by Vernon Uhran as early as 1969, yet no disciplinary action was taken and he was allowed to continue working in Central Florida churches.

The two suits allege that Bishop William Borders, who later became archbishop of Baltimore, knew of the accusations against Uhran but did nothing to stop the abuse. Uhran instead was transferred from parish to parish, "where he continued to have unfettered access to minors and was permitted to have frequent sleepovers in the rectories."

The lawsuits against the diocese initially sought a total of $10 million in damages.

The suits were the first to allege that Borders had knowledge of sexual abuse by a priest but failed to act appropriately. Previous suits have made similar contentions against bishops Thomas Grady and Norbert Dorsey, who followed Borders.

One plaintiff in the settlements announced Wednesday was a 14-year-old altar boy at St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church in Altamonte Springs when he claimed Uhran sexually abused him 10 times in 1971 during a three-month cross-country trip he took with the priest and several other boys.

The second plaintiff claimed Uhran sexually molested him in 1973 at Church of the Resurrection in Lakeland, when he was 9, and in 1976 at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Belleview. On both occasions, Uhran had offered to supervise the boy at the churches' rectories while his parents were on vacation.

A Florida phone listing could not be found for Uhran, who was removed by the diocese in 1992 after an allegation of sexual abuse was made against him.

"Child sexual abuse is criminal and sinful. It is not tolerated in the Diocese of Orlando," Brinati said.

She added that the diocese initiated a background and fingerprint program in 1997, and any employees credibly accused of sexual misconduct are removed from their position and reported to law enforcement.

The settlement of six lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by clergy in the Archdiocese of Miami for a total of $750,000 also was announced Wednesday.

Also, six lawsuits claiming sexual abuse was "rampant" at the former Mary Help of Christians School, operated by the Salesian Religious Order in Tampa, were settled for a total of $625,000, Herman said.

Mark I. Pinsky of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.


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