Church, Plaintiffs Settle up
Up to a Third of Abuse Cases Being Resolved
By Eric Gorski
November 2, 2006
As many as one-third of the roughly 30 plaintiffs who have sued the Denver Roman Catholic Archdiocese for alleged clergy sexual abuse have either agreed to out-of-court settlements or are on the verge of doing so, according to officials involved in the negotiations.
In May, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput announced the archdiocese had hired a former state district judge as a mediator and committed an undisclosed "very large" sum of money in an attempt to negotiate lawsuit settlements by the end of October.
But in late August, Jeffrey Herman of Miami, one of the attorneys representing the largest group of plaintiffs, announced an impasse over money.
Jeanette DeMelo, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Wednesday that some settlement papers were signed, while other deals were close to being finalized or still under discussion.
"Some are still being worked out, but we're pretty sure we'll have a positive outcome with those, so we want to wait and see," she said. "The archdiocese is very pleased this approach we proposed in goodwill is succeeding to help some of those people who have come forward."
DeMelo would not disclose the number of settlements or the amount the archdiocese had agreed to pay. Under the mediation ground rules, plaintiffs who do settle are not bound by confidentiality pacts and can discuss the terms.
Herman confirmed that five to 10 of his 19 clients were either "seriously considering" taking the settlements or had already agreed to the terms struck by the mediator, retired state District Judge Richard Dana.
Dana would say only that the settlements under discussion were "not completed" and still being worked out. He declined to comment further.
However, Herman said some of his plaintiffs are refusing to settle because they "are demanding the archdiocese come clean and release their files on all pedophile priests. They feel that until the archdiocese opens up their files and shows who knew what and when and who are all the priests who have abused children, they won't settle their cases."
The lawsuits center on alleged child sex abuse decades ago involving former priest Harold Robert White, who was defrocked, and the late Rev. Leonard Abercrombie.
Herman would not discuss dollar figures. When asked whether the archdiocese sweetened the settlement pot after he raised his concerns, he said his clients would only take part in mediation if the church did not go in with a preset limit.
The initial ground rules said attorneys could observe but not participate and that no archdiocesan officials would attend. Herman said that after he protested, he was allowed to represent his clients. The archdiocese agreed to send a representative - Chaput himself - to hear the plaintiffs' stories.
Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., attorney representing the rest of the plaintiffs against the archdiocese, said one of his clients took part in mediation but did not reach an agreement. The 10 other men did not sit down at the negotiating table.
"I think the whole process is broken, partial, one-sided - not because of Dana, but because it is created by the archdiocese, using archdiocese rules, and does not allow for the venting of the secrets and the protections of those who need it," Anderson said. "It was an opportunity for Chaput to revictimize victims and dangle some money at them to compromise in a way that doesn't help them as much as a full and fair and balanced mediation could."
Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement Wednesday that financial settlements are the "absolute bare minimum" bishops should provide and that victims shouldn't have to go to court to force such settlements.
"We applaud the victims who have been brave enough to come forward and wise enough to seek justice in the courts," said Blaine, who is traveling to Denver from Chicago for a news conference this afternoon on the settlements. "We hope this brings some measure of long-overdue and sorely needed comfort to those who have suffered and are suffering so severely and for so long."
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.