|City Diocese Settles Abuse Cases
Catholics Will Pay Total of $1.25 Million to 32 People
By Ann Rodgers
September 18, 2007
The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has agreed to pay a total of $1.25 million to 32 people who say they were abused by 17 priests between the 1950s and 1994.
The money will be distributed by an independent arbitrator, former Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Alan S. Penkower, based on a review of each claim.
The settlement was in the works before July's announcement that Bishop David Zubik would be installed here next week, but Bishop Zubik said yesterday that he gave the settlement "complete support."
"I think it is paramount that as Church, we do what we can to bring healing to people who have been harmed," he said.
Auxiliary Bishop Paul Bradley, administrator of the diocese, said all sides sought the common good.
"With the cooperation of the plaintiffs and attorneys in the lawsuits, we have moved from an adversarial relationship in the legal system to conciliation and agreement," he said. "This is important for all involved so that true healing can begin."
The money for the "outreach fund" came from insurance, according to a letter Bishop Bradley sent to priests.
Alan Perer, who with his wife and law partner Diane Perer, represented the plaintiffs, said that both they and their clients had "mixed feelings." He was disappointed that he could not achieve a larger settlement, but said Pennsylvania's statute of limitations made it impossible to take the cases to court.
He praised the diocese for acting voluntarily.
"We think it is a fine and good and moral gesture being made by the diocese and it is appreciated by us and by the victims," he said. "We're sorry we couldn't do more for these people because they are very courageous."
The Pennsylvania statute that covers these cases gives a child sex abuse victim until his or her 20th birthday to file suit. But these cases were filed many years, sometimes decades, later.
Originally there were 26 male and nine female plaintiffs, but three chose not to participate in the settlement for personal reasons, Mr. Perer said.
The accusations were against Robert Castelucci, who was removed from ministry in 1995; Charles Chatt, who left ministry in 1992; Eric Diskin, who was removed from ministry in 2002; Richard Dorsch, who was removed from ministry in 1994; Ralph Esposito, who was transferred to the Diocese of Little Rock in 1978 before retiring in 2002 and being restricted from ministry after the allegation in 2004; Richard Ginder, a convicted child molester who died in 1984; John Hoehl, who was removed from ministry in 1988; Joseph Karabin, who withdrew from ministry in 2002.
Also, William McCashin, who died in 1967; Laurence O'Connell, who died in 1986; George Parme, who retired in 1989 and died in 2002; Edward Smith, a Holy Spirit priest who died in 1957; James Somma, who died in 2002; Andrew Suran, who died in 1971; John Wellinger, who left ministry in 1995; Joseph Wichmanowski, who died in 1977; and George Wilt, who retired in 2003 and was restricted from ministry for reasons unrelated to the child abuse allegation.
Questions were raised years ago about the allegation against Father Wilt. He wasn't assigned to the parish where the abuse allegedly occurred until seven years after the victim said he had molested her.
The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, the diocese spokesman, said the diocese did not consider the merits of individual cases when making the settlement.
"We wanted to do what we believed was best for everyone, and not allow one or two claims to hinder a solution," he said.
William Pietrogallo, an attorney who had represented Father Wilt and later joined the diocesan legal team, said Father Wilt was "mistakenly accused." But Mr. Pietrogallo supported the settlement for the sake of all victims.
"I think it's consistent with the approach stated by [former] Bishop [Donald] Wuerl and carried on by Bishop Bradley, that ... the church was going to exercise compassion," he said.
Joseph Selep, counsel for the diocese, said some accusations were so old that it would have been impossible to find the truth.
"The hard line would have been to parade down to the court with the stack of decisions from Pennsylvania courts that disallowed these cases, and simply move to have them all dismissed," he said. "We elected to take a more compassionate route."
According to Father Lengwin, the diocese first proposed a settlement before then-Bishop Wuerl left in May 2006, but the other side declined. But, he said, Mr. Perer more recently took the initiative to reach this resolution.
There have been other accusers whom the Perers did not represent.
Asked if the diocese would do something similar for them, Father Lengwin said, "There has been no decision made on anything other than what we decided in establishing this outreach fund."
The agreement also commits the diocese to pay for counseling.
The Perers chose Judge Penkower as the arbitrator.
"He will know what funds are available and he will divide them up as to severity, effect on their lives [and] age when it happened," Mr. Perer said.
Some survivors might have been fondled once through their clothing, while others involve repeated rape, he said. The youngest victim was 8.
Participants in the settlement will agree not to sue the diocese, Mr. Perer said.
The Perers declined to say how much of the settlement would pay their legal fees. Mr. Perer said they would make a donation to the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
David Clohessy, executive director of that national advocacy group, called the settlement "the least church officials can do for men and women who were raped and sodomized as kids."
He urged the survivors to stay in therapy.
"No one defrocking, conviction, settlement or incident can magically undo decades of suffering," he said. "The day after the check clears, they will still have nightmares and sleeplessness and disorders and depression and all the rest."
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