|LA Abuse Settlement Includes Area Man
First of a Two-Part Series
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
July 21, 2007
Gallup — The actions of a former Diocese of Gallup priest and convicted sex offender just cost the Archdiocese of Los Angeles a substantial settlement for the sexual abuse of a Winslow, Ariz., teenage boy in the 1980s.
It's also possible the actions of James Burns will be costing the Diocese of Gallup and its insurers some more money in the future.
Burns, a former Catholic priest living in Wickenburg, Ariz., is one of more than 160 priests, members of religious orders, and church lay workers who were accused of child molestation by more than 500 plaintiffs in civil lawsuits filed against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Burns, who had his priestly faculties removed in June 1993, was included because of allegations that he had abused the Winslow boy during trips to California.
According to Associated Press reports, the archdiocese, its insurers, and some religious orders will pay $660 million to the plaintiffs, with the average settlement of $1.2 to $1.3 million per person. The settlement also calls for the archdiocese to release confidential priest personnel files after review by a judge. Attorneys for the plaintiffs will take a percentage of the settlements, ranging from 33 percent to 40 percent, and plaintiffs are scheduled to receive their settlement money by Dec. 1, 2007.
On the eve of the agreement, Cardinal Roger Mahony apologized to the victims for the "terrible sin and crime" that was perpetrated against them.
However, this apparently isn't the final legal battle for the plaintiff in the James Burns case. The Diocese of Gallup was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed Dec. 24, 2003, by the law firm of Kiesel Boucher & Larson.
"They are still a defendant, and they did not contribute to the settlement," said attorney Cheryl Buchanan of Kiesel Boucher & Larson, when contacted on Thursday. "We hope that they'll follow LA's lead," she added.
Buchanan said she did not know why the Gallup Diocese did not contribute to the settlement and suggested the newspaper contact the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Her firm was still preparing to go to trial, she said, although a trial date has not yet been set.
Telephone messages about the Gallup Diocese's lack of participation in the settlement were left with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Michael Hennigan, the attorney representing the archdiocese. Neither office returned the calls by 5 p.m. Friday.
The Diocese of Gallup, however, did respond to questions. After consulting with attorneys, Deacon Timoteo Lujan, the chancellor for the diocese, responded via email: "The Diocese of Gallup petitioned the California judge to be excluded from the global juvenile sex abuse case due to jurisdiction. Father Burns was not assigned or sent by the diocese in any official or unofficial way to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The judge has yet to rule on this but went ahead with the rest of the case without the Diocese of Gallup ... Therefore, this settlement did not include the Diocese of Gallup so neither we nor our insurance company has contributed anything toward the settlement and we are not required to submit Father Burns' personnel files to them."
Lujan added that he was left with the impression "that there will soon be some movement on the Burns and Casimano cases in California."
Santino Casimano, now deceased, was another Diocese of Gallup priest who was named in a clergy sex abuse lawsuit in California. After being ordained in the Diocese of Gallup and serving briefly in the Navajo reservation parish at Crownpoint, N.M., Casimano moved to California where he allegedly molested two brothers. According to published news reports, the Diocese of Orange paid the brothers $4.2 million in a 2005 settlement. The Diocese of Gallup was also named in that suit, and according to the plaintiffs' attorney, Katherine K. Freberg, the case against the Gallup Diocese is continuing.
A dozen victims
Based on information provided by the Diocese of Gallup and interviews with other alleged victims, James Burns abused at least a dozen victims mostly young Hispanic males in small parishes across northern Arizona. Ordained in 1962, Burns was assigned to Arizona parishes in Flagstaff, Holbrook, Camp Verde, Humbolt, Springerville, Pinetop, Page, and Winslow. Before his forced retirement due to allegations of sex abuse, Burns also worked in a small parish in Blanco, N.M.
Reporter Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola can be contacted at (505) 863-6811 ext. 218 or email@example.com.
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