|More Local Priest Sex Abuse Settlements May Be Coming, Lawyers Say
By Josh Nelson
April 11, 2008
WATERLOO — Thursday's announcement of a third settlement between the Archdiocese of Dubuque and 18 people abused by priests may not be the last.
Waterloo attorneys Chad Swanson and Thomas Staack said the people who were involved with the three settlements are only the tip of the iceberg. Many abuse victims either haven't come forward yet with abuse claims, or haven't asked to be included in a settlement.
"Most likely there will be a fourth group and probably beyond that because we don't believe we've gotten through the number of victims that are still out there," Staack said Thursday during a press conference on the settlement.
Forty-seven victims have reached settlements with the diocese, which covers 33 counties. In the latest of such agreements, Archdiocesan officials agreed to pay $4.7 million to abuse victims, along with up to 12 therapy sessions with a specialist of their choosing.
While the victims will receive around $261,000 per person from the settlement, with amount varying depending on the circumstances of the abuse, Staack said the real importance was that victims can begin recovering from their abuse by coming forward.
"It is the first step of a very important process," he said. "What we've found out by them doing that, it's really started the healing process."
Details of the current settlement were negotiated during March, according to the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald. Each claimant provided written statements about the abuse and its effect, was questioned under oath and was examined by psychologists from both sides.
The payments will come from two sources according to Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus - from outside insurance and from self-insurance, the Telegraph-Herald said. The archdiocese's finance council approved borrowing from other archdiocesan funds to supplement the self-insurance plan.
About a third of the victims in this latest case were female, Swanson said.
No formal suits were filed in this latest case, Staack said. Instead, the victim's attorneys used a process agreed upon with attorneys for the archdiocese that helped to speed up the process, Swanson said.
Lawyers for both sides shared all information, and had victims meet with two psychologists — one chosen by each side. The psychologists each determined that many of the victims suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress, Staack said.
Swanson said the process was effective for victims because it requires the church to acknowledge some harm was done and holds church officials accountable.
"Abuse is a very isolating incident," he said. "(Victims) feel like they're suffering on their own with no one to turn to. When they take that first step to come forward, they can really start moving forward with their lives."
Swanson said the process was "cordial" between the two sides. And while the two attorneys are skeptical that the abuse has completely ended, they said the settlements have helped make the Archdiocese more vigilant about the issue.
Nine priests from around the area — including three who served congregations in Black Hawk County — were named as abusers in this settlement. Only one of those priests, Allen Schmitt, is alleged to have committed abuse while in the county, in 1975 at Sacred Heart Parish in Waterloo. Schmitt lives in Dubuque and works at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center.
When asked why an accused priest is still employed by the archdiocese, Hanus said, "He needs to earn a living and he has a skill which can be put to use," adding that "supervision is in place."
William Goltz, who served at St. Joseph's Catholic Church from 1977 and 1980, allegedly committed his abuse at St. Ludmila Church in Cedar Rapids in 1966. Robert Reiss, who served at St. Nicholas's church in Evansdale between 1969 and 1971, is accused of abuse while at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Luxemburg that same year. All three have been named in previous settlements.
Archdiocese officials said the nine priests were "a disgrace to the vocation and a scandal to the faithful" in a press release. Hanus also apologized again in a letter to victims.
"The trust you had in God and in the Catholic church and its leaders may have been weakened or destroyed because of the abuse you suffered. I pray to God that it may be restored," he wrote.
He also said all parishes were asked to include a notice in their bulletins letting people know April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, along with ways to prevent such abuse.
The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald contributed to this story.
Contact Josh Nelson at (319) 291-1565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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