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  Diocese Files Reorganization Plan

By Ann McGlynn
The Quad-City Times
February 1, 2008

http://www.qctimes.com/articles/2008/02/01/news/local/doc47a261d49ad7c260778971.txt

The Diocese of Davenport hopes to emerge from bankruptcy with an 83-page plan that details how victims will be paid from a $37 million settlement, including a detailed matrix that assigns a dollar amount to victims based on the severity of sex abuse suffered at the hands of clergy.

The plan, filed this afternoon, also lays out 18 nonmonetary agreements the diocese made with the committee that represents the 156 claimants in the case, most of whom are victims of sex abuse. The agreement includes provisions requiring the naming of all credibly accused priests and the bishop to publicly support the elimination of the statute of limitations for prosecution of sex abuse.

The creditors will be asked to approve the plan in balloting this spring, officials said. Bankruptcy judge Lee Jackwig will have the final say as to whether the plan is acceptable. The committee representing the claimants filed the reorganization plan jointly with the diocese and recommended its approval. The next hearing is set for March 5.

St. Vincent Center in Davenport.

"Over the last fifty years a tragedy that runs contrary to the every teaching of the Roman Catholic Church has unfolded in the church as a whole and in this diocese in particular: a number of priests, other clergy and other persons took advantage of their positions of trust and respect and sexually abused children," Thursday's filings say. Most of the abuse happened between 1940 and 1985.

The plan "fairly, justly, and equitably compensates the survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, some identified and some still unknown and allows the diocese to continue its Catholic ministry and mission," it says.

Craig Levien, who represents many of the clergy sex abuse victims, said the nonmonetary provisions included in the plan hold the most significance.

"Every person I've represented says, 'Just make sure it never happens again,'" said Levien, who assisted with the creation of the compensation matrix. "These wounds are very, very deep."

Mike Uhde, a sex abuse victim who serves as the chairman of the creditors committee, said the reorganization plan was "the best we could get." The nonmonetaries are most important to him.

"Taken as a whole, it's a huge achievement for the committee to get those guarantees from the diocese that will be enforced by a lot of people watching," he said.

Bishop Martin Amos declined comment.

The claimants will be allowed to choose whether they are a "convenience claim" and given $10,000; a matrix claim to be assigned to one of the five tiers of the matrix based on documentation and written and verbal interviews; or a litigation claim, a case taken to Scott County District Court against the bankruptcy fund, not the diocese.

Each pool will be assigned an amount of money to be divided amongst its members. Officials will determine whether six claims filed late will be considered or dismissed.

A $1.5 million fund also will be set aside for "unknown" claimants who come forward within 10 years.

The matrix is divided into five levels.

The first tier, for example, is for claimants who cannot prove the name of the offender, who lack proof, were fondled not more than a few times outside of clothing or once inside of clothing or resisted fondling that never happened again.

The fourth tier is for people who were victims of "perverted, sadistic acts," who made a claim against a priest who was known or should have been known by the diocese to be an offender and who sustained a significant impact.

The most serious tier is reserved for those who suffered abuse weekly or monthly for more than a year, who are younger victims and who were victimized by a priest well known to be an abuser.

"There is no easy way to rank claims of childhood sexual abuse," the documents supporting the matrix state. "There are no reliable ways to measure the damage to a child who is a victim of abuse because each child reacts differently to different acts of abuse. In addition, people who are victims of childhood abuse experience injury and pain at different times of their lives."

A matrix, therefore, "must take into account that most of the claimants have not truly experienced all of the pain and injury related to their sexual abuse. Further, it is important to not penalize or reward resiliency of one claimant and/or the vulnerability of another claimant."

The diocese agreed to several nonmonetary actions as well. They include:

- The bishop will publicly support "a complete elimination" of all criminal statutes of limitation for sex abuse committed by clergy or others in authority.

- All priests working in the diocese, as well as the bishop, will submit a written statement acknowledging they have not sexually abused any minor and have no knowledge that any other priest or employee of the diocese has done so or that such knowledge has been reported to the appropriate authorities. The statement will be signed and dated under penalty of perjury and placed in the priest's personnel file.

- The names of priests credibly accused as the result of an investigation will be publicly announced.

- Victims will be allowed to speak in the church in which they were abused and given space in the Catholic Messenger, the diocesan newspaper, to share their story of abuse.

- No one from the diocese will refer to the claimants as "alleged."

- Each school in the diocese will be required to display a plaque stating that "the abuse of the spiritual, emotional, and moral development" of students will not be tolerated.

- The diocese must make a full report for action to be taken against retired Sioux City Bishop Lawrence Soens, who was a priest in the Diocese of Davenport accused of sex abuse. He is the only clergy specifically named in the plan.

Legal and administrative fees will be taken out of the $37 million settlement. So far, approximately $1 million in legal fees have been requested from the attorneys and advisers working on the bankruptcy. The group of matrix claimants will together bear the cost of attorney fees for all individual victims within that group. Those who choose to take their claim to court will also have legal fees taken from their award.

The plan releases the parishes, schools and other entities associated with the diocese from liability for past abuse. It does not release perpetrators from legal action. Victims remain able to take legal action against them.

The diocese's insurance company, Travelers, will pay $19.5 million. The diocese will pay $17.5 million. That money will come from a variety of sources: four parishes with the most severe abuse, the sale of the diocesan headquarters, the St. Vincent Home Corp., the sale of diocesan property and yet undetermined sources, possibly loans.

The assets of the 83 parishes in the diocese were not included as part of the bankruptcy, documents state, because the titles to the parish properties are in the name of the parishes, not the diocese. That is unlike the parishes in the four other dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy.

In addition, bringing the parish assets into the process also likely would have caused litigation that would have been "consuming and costly."

The diocese also has several "restricted" assets that were not included in the settlement and will remain with the diocese as it emerges from bankruptcy. Those funds total $1.7 million.

The lease the diocese has with the Congregation of the Humility of Mary will be allowed to remain, documents indicate.

The diocese also will be allowed to remain in its headquarters after the complex is deeded over to the settlement trustee, paying "occupancy costs" in lieu of rent. The trustee must give 90 days notice if the diocese is required to vacate the property.

How will the $37 million be paid?

Four parishes will pay part of the $37 million bankruptcy settlement, church officials announced Thursday morning.

The parishes, "which will be named after they have had time to inform their parishioners," the diocese said, had the most serious claims of sex abuse.

The parishes are part of a $5.9 million agreement with the St. Vincent Home Corp. to help the diocese with its portion of $17.5 million. The sale of the St. Vincent Center, the diocesan headquarters, will account for approximately $3.9 million of that $17.5 million.

"The diocese is considering the various options, including borrowing money, to raise the balance of the funds needed to meet the settlement," officials said.

The diocese's insurance company, Travelers, will be responsible for $19.5 million.

Diocesan sex abuse history

The first lawsuit alleging priest sex abuse was filed in Clinton County District Court in May 2003 by John Doe 1A, court documents state. The lawsuit named James Janssen, a now-defrocked priest, and the diocese as defendants. Several other lawsuits followed.

The diocese settled with 37 victims in November 2004 for $9 million. Nine more claims later were settled for $1,653,000. An additional 25 claims were made before the bankruptcy petition was filed in October 2006.

A jury awarded Mike Uhde of Davenport $1.5 million in September 2006. The diocese filed for bankruptcy shortly before it was to go to trial in a case brought by Michael Gould, alleging abuse by Lawrence Soens, who served as a priest in the Davenport Diocese before he became bishop in Sioux City.

The settlement matrix

The Matrix categorizes five tiers and provides the value range to which a tort claim may be assigned. Here's the criteria for the abuse claims (the monetary amounts have not been determined):

Award Tier 1

- Cannot prove name of the offender

- Lack of proof that the Diocese would in any way be responsible for the actions of an individual

- Lack of proof that the conduct alleged constitutes an actionable sexual impropriety

- Not more than a few times fondling outside of clothes

- One time fondling inside of clothes

- Lack of significant demonstrable injury or damage

- Resisted fondling that never again occurred

Award Tier 2

- Multiple instances of fondling inside clothing

- Demonstrable serious injury or damages

- More than one claim against priest

- One attempt at penetration that was resisted

Award Tier 3

- Multiple instances of masturbation to completion

- Significant impact and damages

- Multiple claims against same priest

- Priest known by Diocese to be abusive

Award Tier 4

- Multiple, frequent instances of severe abuse, including mutual masturbation to completion

- Perverted, sadistic acts

- Younger age of victim

- Multiple claims against priest

- Priest that is known or clearly should have been known by Diocese to be abusive

- Significant damages and impact

Award Tier 5

- Most serious and disturbing type of abuse for more than a year

- Frequency is weekly or monthly

- Young victim

- Priest well known to be abuser to others, including the Diocese

- Most serious damage and impact

Source: Reorganization plan for the Diocese of Davenport

Diocesan sex abuse history

The first lawsuit alleging priest sex abuse was filed in Clinton County District Court in May 2003 by John Doe 1A, court documents state. The lawsuit named James Janssen, a now-defrocked priest, and the diocese as defendants. Several other lawsuits followed.

The diocese settled with 37 victims in November 2004 for $9 million. Nine more claims later were settled for $1,653,000. An additional 25 claims were made before the bankruptcy petition was filed in October 2006.

A jury awarded Mike Uhde of Davenport $1.5 million in September 2006. The diocese filed for bankruptcy shortly before it was to go to trial in a case brought by Michael Gould, alleging abuse by Lawrence Soens, who served as a priest in the Davenport Diocese before he became bishop in Sioux City.

NON-MONETARY UNDERTAKINGS OF DEBTOR

The Reorganized Debtor will undertake the following non-monetary obligations within thirty (30) days after the Effective Date, unless otherwise noted.

- The names of credibly accused perpetrators shall be publicly released.

- The diocese will post on its Web site a prominent link on the home page to the names of all known perpetrators, including deceased perpetrators and those previously listed.

- The bishop will visit each parish in which abuse occurred or where perpetrators served. The bishop will publicly identify perpetrators that served in the parish and will encourage all abuse survivors to report abuse.

- The diocese shall provide information in parish bulletins and the Catholic Messenger with contact information for the diocese's victim assistance coordinator and will encourage abuse survivors to contact a health care professional for assistance.

- The diocese will publish in the Catholic Messenger four times per year for five years and one time per year for 20 years thereafter a prominent statement urging abused people to contact law enforcement, the diocesan victim assistance coordinator, doctor or other health care professional or other trusted person to make a report of abuse.

- The bishop will publicly support an elimination of criminal statutes of limitation for child sexual abuse committed by clergy or others in similar positions of authority.

- Claimants with specific levels of complaint will be allowed to speak publicly in the parishes where they were abused.

- The diocese will make available reasonable space (up to 300 words or one-quarter page) in each issue of the Catholic Messenger for two years to allow claimants with specific levels of claims to publish stories of their abuse.

- Diocesan representatives will not refer either verbally or in print to claims or claimants as "alleged" claims, "alleged" victims or "alleged" survivors.

- The bishop will send letters of apology to any claimant who requests a letter or their immediate family members. Letters of apology will state that the survivor was not at fault for the abuse and that the diocese takes responsibility for the abuse. The letters of apology will be personally signed by the bishop and all members of the diocese's board of directors.

- All confidentiality agreements involving sex abuse survivors shall terminate on the effective date to the extent that perpetrators' names, church knowledge of abuse and any other information may be made public. The names of the survivors shall remain confidential.

- The diocese shall continue to provide its outreach program for survivors of abuse. The victim assistance coordinator will report to the review board established under procedures required by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops.

- Information shall be given in writing and in church and schools regarding the prevention of abuse, training to identify signs of abuse, statements that the abused are not at fault and encouraging the reporting of abuse.

- The diocese will adopt a whistle-blower policy concerning the reporting of abuse and expressly providing that the diocese will not take any retaliatory actions against people who report such information in good faith.

- All priests working within the diocese, and the bishop, shall make a written statement that they have not sexually abused any minor at any time and have no knowledge that any other priest or employee of the diocese has abused or that knowledge of any abuse has been reported to law enforcement and county attorney and the victim assistance coordinator. Each statement shall be signed and dated under penalty of perjury. A copy of the statement shall be retained in each priest's personnel file.

- The diocese shall post a plaque prominently displayed in each school in the diocese stating: "The abuse of the spiritual, emotional, and moral development of the young men and women of (school name) shall not be tolerated." The dimensions of these plaques shall be no less than 8.5 inches by 11 inches. At Regina High School in Iowa City, the plaques shall be placed next to the door of the principal's office. These plaques shall not be obstructed by plants, furniture or any other items.

- The diocese shall make a full written report to the Vatican's representative in the United States for appropriate action be taken with respect to Bishop Lawrence Soens.

Ann McGlynn can be contacted at (563) 383-2336 or amcglynn@qctimes.com.

 
 

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