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  Clergy Abuse Victims to Get More Money

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star
February 10, 2008

http://www.azstarnet.com/metro/224430

Twenty-six victims of sexual abuse by local Catholic clergy will be getting more money.

The payout brings the total per-person settlement money for five men who say they were abused by a priest in Yuma to more than $900,000.

The extra money comes after a federal judge ordered the release last week of $1 million from a $5 million "future claims" fund, in connection with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson's Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

The money had been set aside for future claims by people who said they were sexually abused as children by clergy. But as time goes on and the money remains largely untapped, the court is releasing some of it back to existing victims.

Of that $1 million payout, $800,000 will go to people whose claims of abuse were deemed valid in the bankruptcy case. The other $200,000 will go to the diocese, to pay for programs that support sexual abuse prevention, said diocese bankruptcy attorney Susan G. Boswell.

The payout means an additional $54,000 each to five men in "tier four" of the victims' category in the reorganization the category the court deemed most serious.

The five say they were abused by the Rev. Juan Guillen in Yuma between the late 1980s and 2002. The extra $54,000 will bring their total settlement amount to $927,639 apiece, minus legal fees. Lawyers' fees are typically 33 to 40 percent of the settlement amount.

Those five men, who range in age from 19 to 30, are eventually expected to receive total payments of more than $1 million apiece.

"Having money in the bank lowers stress and increases their options and adds security," said attorney Lynne M. Cadigan, who represented a majority of the 56 people who received payouts in the bankruptcy reorganization, among them all the Yuma claims.

"For them to get $1 million each is comparable with the rest of the settlements around the country, and we are in a state with a strict statute and in a relatively poor diocese," she said.

Cadigan added that the victims she represented were by and large from economically poor families and that the money is giving them opportunities, such as going to college.

The total settlement pool was $22.4 million, created as a resolution to the diocese's bankruptcy case.

The diocese filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004 in the face of potentially expensive litigation concerning sexual abuse by priests. The bankruptcy reorganization was completed in 2005.

Including last week's added payout, roughly $16 million to $17 million of the pool money will have been distributed, Boswell said.

The remainder of the settlement pool is on reserve for litigating disputed claims, for future claims by people who may be suffering repressed memories and for claims by people who are not yet 18, said Thomas A. Groom, who chairs the bankruptcy case's tort claimants' committee.

Groom says the remaining $4 million of the future claims fund will be released at the discretion of the federal court.

In accordance with the bankruptcy plan, the diocese receives 20 percent of any remaining future claims funds with the other 80 percent going to victims.

Groom is among those who will be getting an extra payment. He is part of a group of claimants in tier three of the settlement, whose per-person total settlements will top $500,000, minus legal fees, with the most recent payout.

Both Groom and his brother, now both in their 50s, filed claims that they were sexually abused by the Rev. Robert Gluch at a church in Phoenix during the 1960s, when Phoenix churches were part of the Diocese of Tucson.

Groom's brother is one of 20 people who received "compromise claims" of $15,000 apiece. The diocese gave those to people whose claims were barred by the statute of limitations but whose allegations of sexual abuse appeared valid.

Groom said he was a 13-year-old altar boy when he was abused by Gluch. Gluch died of cancer in 1993 at age 56. He worked at St. Gregory from 1964 to 1968.

Groom has struggled with anger problems, particularly when it comes to authority figures. He has had bouts of sadness and questioned his faith. His wife wonders if stress from repressing memories is what caused him to have heart trouble that resulted in triple bypass surgery when he was 50.

"It has taken a lot of pressure off of me," Groom said of the settlement he received.

Cadigan and others involved with the case have praised the diocese and its attorneys for emerging from bankruptcy and settling with the victims within a year of filing.

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or at sinnes@azstarnet.com.

 
 

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