Savannah Morning News
October 30, 2009
Catholic Diocese of Savannah reaches settlement with alleged victim, takes proactive steps to guard against future child abuse.
DEFENSELESS CHILDREN have a right to be protected from predators. All organizations, and society as a whole, will be judged by how well they follow that principle.
On Wednesday, the Catholic Diocese of Savannah agreed to pay dearly to reconcile an egregious wrong allegedly committed 30 years ago by a then-local priest.
The payment of $4 million to a former St. James Catholic Church School student doesn't erase what the victim said he endured at the hands of a trusted adult.
But it does show that the diocese has accepted responsibility and is making amends - healthy responses to a dark chapter in the diocese's past.
The settlement is said to be the second largest payout to an individual in the history of the priest sex abuse scandal, which saddened America's 64 million Catholics when it broke more than seven years ago.
And while the amount paid is significant, the alleged acts committed over a five-year period and the church's response during that time were indefensible.
That's why the more recent work done by The Most Rev. J. Kevin Boland, the current bishop of the Savannah diocese, and other American bishops is necessary from religious and secular perspectives.Bishop Boland, along with the other four Catholic bishops who serve in the province of Atlanta, called in 2002 for a "one strike, you're out" policy for priests who prey on the innocent and commit crimes in the eyes of the law. These bishops, whose diocese cover Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, show that the church was dead serious about being safe for children. Pedophile priests must go.
The diocese, to its credit, also has acted proactively to train its volunteers and staff who work with children. It has hired an independent auditing agency to review practices relating to child protection. In other words, it has learned some lessons the hard way - and it wants to make sure children aren't harmed again.
What this $4 million payment must not do is taint the reputations of many good, caring priests who tirelessly serve in the diocese. The settlement also shouldn't overshadow the many charitable works that Catholic churches perform in Savannah and other south Georgia communities.
Bishop Boland gave a sincere, heartfelt apology last Wednesday on behalf of the diocese to the victim who said he suffered at the hands Wayland Y. Brown, 66, who was convicted in 2003 of sexually abusing two Maryland boys in 1974.
But true reconciliation is more than saying you're sorry. It's making amends and making changes. This financial settlement, combined with previous actions, show that the Savannah diocese is committed to both.
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