|Clergy Abuse in Delaware: Diocese Says Victims Will Be Paid More
By Sean O'Sullivan
January 5, 2011
WILMINGTON -- The Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington will be submitting a new bankruptcy plan to a judge Monday that it is promising will be more generous to victims of sexual abuse by its priests.
An attorney representing abuse victims, however, expressed skepticism, saying promises to be more generous to victims have been made in the past and have gone unfulfilled.
The diocese's amended plan comes on the heels of a $3 million jury verdict last month against St. Elizabeth Parish in a case brought by John Vai. Attorneys said it was the first time a jury held an individual parish -- not a diocese -- responsible for the actions of a pedophile priest.
Diocesan attorney Anthony Flynn on Tuesday would not disclose the exact amount of the average settlement that will be offered to victims under the new plan, but said it will be in excess of $350,000, which he said was the maximum average amount under the plan submitted to U.S Bankruptcy Court in September.
Flynn said the new, "significantly higher" maximum settlement will be possible because individual parishes and religious orders will contribute money to the pool to be divided among the more than 150 people with pending legal claims.
"So it will be a larger pool," Flynn said. "This addresses the primary objection to the current plan."
Attorney Thomas S. Neuberger, whose firm represents nearly 100 of those with pending lawsuits, greeted the news warily.
First, Neuberger said, he did not believe the current plan offers individual victims an average settlement in the range of $210,000 to $350,000.
He pointed to the current plan's "convenience payment" to victims -- who choose to take a payment rather than go forward with litigation -- which is $37,000 to $75,000.
Second, Neuberger said, the previous plan was dozens of pages long and took a week to analyze. "So I can't comment on something I haven't seen," he said.
Neuberger said settlement talks have been a failure up until now, so he looks forward to reading this new bankruptcy plan to see if there is progress.
The new plan could put into play money in a "pooled investment account" between the diocese and the parishes worth $120 million, not including assets held individually by parishes and religious orders that could total hundreds of millions more.
Separately on Tuesday, a group of nonordained church employees sued the Wilmington diocese in bankruptcy court, asking a judge to protect $4.4 million in the investment pool from being used to pay abuse victims. The group says the church erred by pooling annual pension payments with its other cash.
This story includes material from Bloomberg News. Contact Sean O'Sullivan at 324-2777 or email@example.com.
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