|Kansas City, Mo. — a Roman Catholic Diocese Has Tentatively Agreed to Pay $10 Million to Settle 47 Pending Sexual Abuse Claims against the Diocese and 12 of Its Priests, Including Former Wyoming Bishop Joseph Hart.
August 21, 2008
Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese Bishop Robert W. Finn on Wednesday apologized for the abuse that occurred at the hands of current and former clergy members, and promised that steps are being taken to make sure such abuse never happens again.
"A priest is ordained with the privilege of celebrating the church's sacraments by nothing less than a holy order," Finn said at a news conference. "The behaviors attributable to certain priests involved in this matter not only betray those holy orders, but diminish the stature of the faithful and responsible priests who dispatch their ministry effectively and faithfully day in, day out."
Finn will recommend to the Diocese Tribunal and to the Vatican that the accused priests have their holy orders removed, an action known as laicization, he said.
Hart was among the priests named in the lawsuits. At least five people had sued claiming they had been molested by him when they were children while he was bishop in Wyoming and as a priest in the Diocese of Kansas City.
Hart had repeatedly and adamantly denied the accusations.
"I have been devastated to have been falsely accused in the media, without evidence, of horrible acts, and I fully expect a thorough, unbiased and professional investigation to clear me of any wrongdoing," Hart said in response to an accusation that was investigated in 2002.
Michael Hunter, 59, alleged that Hart abused his younger brother Kevin in the summer of 1971.
Michael, who lives near Kansas City, said he was relieved that his case has been settled, even though it has been almost 20 years since he told the diocese about abuse he and his younger brother Kevin suffered at the hands of priests.
"I'm glad to see this is settled, but I feel sad, though," said Hunter, who was abused in 1963
Hunter said he decided to report the abuse after his younger brother died in 1989 at the age of 29, but nobody believed him.
Hart grew up in Kansas City and began serving as a parish priest there in 1956. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Cheyenne diocese in 1976 and became head of the diocese in 1978, where he served until his retirement in September 2001. Hart was succeeded by Bishop David Ricken, who recently moved to Green Bay, Wis.
There were two complaints of sexual misconduct against Hart in 1989 and 1992 for alleged incidents involving junior high boys in the early 1970s, but no charges were filed, the Kansas City diocese said in 2002.
In 1993, Hart underwent a psychiatric evaluation in Arizona and was found not to be a threat to himself or others and he returned to Cheyenne, the diocese said.
An attempt to reach Hart's attorney in Kansas City, Larry Ward, was unsuccessful Wednesday afternoon, as was a phone call to the Catholic pastoral center in Cheyenne.
Along with the money, Finn said the deal calls for the diocese to meet 19 nonmonetary conditions, including publicly announcing and acknowledging the wrongfulness of sexual abuse by its priests.
Finn said the victims must not be stigmatized as the offending priests are brought to justice.
"Although we may apologize for any responsibility the diocese might have had for its insensitivity to conditions that may have created the opportunity for these incidents, we cannot change what may have happened in the past," the bishop said. "Nor, I must add, should we ever forget it."
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say it is those nonmonetary conditions that make the proposed settlement so important.
"Our clients are trying very hard to right the unrightable wrong," plaintiffs' attorney Rebecca Randles said Tuesday. "The civil process is not something that is amenable to righting this kind of wrong. But they're working very hard to try to come to a process where children in the future are protected."
Among the nonmonetary stipulations of the settlement, the diocese will continue providing counseling for the sexual abuse victims; be barred from making job recommendations for any priests who have had sexual abuse lawsuits filed against them; and publicly acknowledge the sexual abuse in media sources.
"Money is such a poor means of exchange for the loss of a soul," Randles said. "This kind of abuse is an absolute soul killer. There is no amount of money that could ever repay what these people have been through. Never."
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