Trust -- Local Settlements Pale in Comparison to Spokane

By Jane Gargas
Yakima Herald Republic
January 7, 2007

In light of the multimillion-dollar agreement reached Thursday in the Spokane Catholic Diocese over sexual molestation cases, the settlement numbers in the Catholic Diocese of Yakima -- both financial and in terms of victims -- have been significantly less substantial.

The Spokane Catholic Diocese agreed to pay at least $48 million to people molested by priests as a part of a deal to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. About 150 claims were filed against the diocese as part of the bankruptcy.

The plan must still be approved by a bankruptcy judge and the victims.

The Spokane diocese is among four nationwide filing bankruptcy protection to seek relief from abuse claims. The others are Portland, Tucson, Ariz., and Dallas.

In the Yakima diocese, the most recent statistics available on sexual abuse claims against clerics are from 2004. At that time, the diocese said it had paid out $1.02 million to 14 abuse victims dating to 1950.

Monsignor Ron Metha, diocesan chief of staff, reports that there has been no substantial change to the numbers in the past two years.

Last year, the diocese said that six clerics serving since 1950 had been accused of sexually abusing children.

Four have been named publicly by the diocese:

* The Revs. Dale Calhoun and Richard Scully, who are no longer practicing as priests.

* Deacon Aarón Ramírez, who fled to Mexico in 1999 to avoid prosecution. (See related story.)

* Monsignor Joseph Sondergeld, who died in 1969.

Bishop Carlos Sevilla said last year that none of the six is still active in the ministry.

A fifth has been identified in lawsuits filed by several women alleging sexual molestation by the Rev. Michael Simpson. Simpson, who is deceased, was assigned to St. Aloysius Church in Toppenish at the time of the alleged abuse.

According to Tom Frey, a Seattle attorney representing the diocese, three or four lawsuits are pending against the diocese, all alleging sexual molestation by Simpson.

-- Jane Gargas


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