Diocese Settles Abuse Suit
Fort Worth: 11 Former Altar Boys to Get Award; Bishop to Apologize
By Doug J. Swanson
Dallas Morning News [Fort Worth TX]
November 23, 2006
The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth has settled a lawsuit by 11 men who said they were sexually molested by a priest more than 20 years ago, the attorney for the men said Wednesday.
The men will receive an undisclosed cash settlement "in the seven figures" and a public apology, said their attorney, Tahira Khan-Merritt.
A state court lawsuit the men filed this year in Fort Worth alleged that the Rev. James Reilly sexually abused them at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Arlington in the 1970s and 1980s. Father Reilly is deceased.
"All these guys were his altar boys," Ms. Khan-Merritt said. "Most of them were 10 or 11 to 13 or 14 years old."
Neither diocese representatives nor their attorney could be reached for comment Wednesday.
As part of the settlement, diocese Bishop Kevin W. Vann will make a public apology during Masses at St. Maria Goretti one weekend. Also, the diocese will acknowledge the abuse by Father Reilly in its newspaper and on its Web site.
The diocese also has agreed to pay for counseling for each of the 11 men for one year. And a $600,000 fund from Father Reilly's estate will be established to help anyone sexually abused as minors by Fort Worth Catholic clergy.
Father Reilly led St. Maria Goretti for 20 years, and his name appears on many plaques and buildings at the church, including the "St. James" center for children. All those references to him will be removed as part of the settlement.
One of the 11 men, who is now 37, said Wednesday that he is relieved by the settlement. "I was obviously hurt, ashamed and certainly angry," he said, referring to the sexual abuse. "This case was about accountability and reparations."
In a related matter, a Fort Worth judge next week is expected to unseal diocese records about several priests – including Father Reilly – who have been accused of sexually molesting children. The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram had argued that the records should be made public.
The diocese had surrendered the records as part of litigation with the alleged victims of one priest. But when that litigation ended in 2005, they were sealed at the diocese's request.
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