|Church Settles Abuse for $4.24M
By Dana Clark Felty
Savannah Morning News
October 29, 2009
Settlement with alleged victim is second-largest individual sum in Catholic priest scandal
The Catholic Diocese of Savannah has agreed to pay more than $4 million to the alleged victim of an abusive former priest in order to avoid going to trial.
The Diocese released a statement Wednesday afternoon announcing the $4.24 million agreement reached with former St. James Catholic School student Allan Ranta Jr.
Ranta had filed a complaint in a Jasper County, S.C., civil court stating he was molested from 1978 to 1983, starting when he was 10 years old, by former priest Wayland Y. Brown.
Ranta claimed former Savannah Bishop Raymond Lessard and other diocesan officials knew Brown posed a danger to children but failed to take action.
Brown, 66, was convicted in 2003 of sexually abusing two Maryland boys, ages 12 and 13, in 1974. He was released from prison in April 2008 after serving half of his sentence and now is listed on the Maryland Sex Offender Registry as living in Baltimore.
Ranta's attorney, Larry Richter, described the settlement as "giant" but appropriate considering the type of abuse involved and the degree to which he says diocesan officials ignored warning signs.
Richter said the settlement doesn't include $200,000 already paid to Ranta for medical treatment relating to the alleged abuse.
In the diocese's written statement, Savannah Bishop J. Kevin Boland apologized.
"I am sorry for all the pain and suffering experienced by Mr. Ranta, and my prayers go out not only to him, but to all victims of child sexual abuse that each may find the healing they seek," Boland said in the statement posted on the diocese's Web site.
Richter described Boland's apology as "insufficient."
"We call on Bishop (J.) Kevin Boland and all bishops to identify publicly known abuser priests," Richter said. "We repeatedly called on (the Charleston) diocese to do it. Of course it didn't. And we've called repeatedly on the Diocese of Savannah to make such identifications, and that hasn't happened either."
Based in Mount Pleasant, S.C., Richter won a $12 million class-action settlement against the Catholic Diocese of Charleston in 2007.
The settlement with Ranta releases the Savannah diocese, Lessard and Boland as parties to the lawsuit. Ranta will continue his civil case against Brown, Richter said. A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 7.
Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., attorney who has represented hundreds of victims across the U.S. for 25 years, said the Savannah diocese's settlement represents the second largest payout to an individual in the history of the priest sex abuse scandal.
"It demonstrates that the liability and the legal responsibility of the Diocese of Savannah and its officials was extraordinarily aggravated," Anderson said.
The largest individual payout to date came in 2001, when two California dioceses agreed to pay $5.2 million to Ryan DiMaria, a man who claimed he had been sexually abused as a teenager by a priest at a church high school.
Victim advocates said the settlement is bittersweet.
"For every individual survivor, a settlement does in fact represent a hard-earned, long overdue validation and closure," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
"In the larger context, though, every settlement also represents a victory for bishops who want to continue to hide the truth. There's no denying that more cover-up by the hierarchy is exposed when cases go to trial."
The Savannah diocese says since 2002 it has provided "safe environment training" to volunteers and staff who work with children and has hired an independent auditing agency to review practices relating to the protection of children.
Until Wednesday, the diocese had paid about $400,000 for various types of treatments for victims of sexual abuse, said spokeswoman Barbara King.
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