|Clergy Abuse in Delaware: Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Survivors Settle Suit
By Sean O'Sullivan
February 3, 2011
Attorneys representing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington and survivors of priest abuse reached a $77.4 million lawsuit settlement Wednesday night following a marathon negotiating session.
Some details are yet to be worked out, but both sides announced around 9 p.m. that a general framework that sets aside $77,425,000 in a trust to pay survivor claims was hammered out along with a number of non-monetary conditions, including the release of files related to abusive priests.
Wilmington Bishop W. Francis Malooly and some survivors of priest sexual abuse were part of the lengthy negotiations.
"After a seven-year fight, we are on our way to a fair compensation for survivors. This is an average payment of $530,000 for each survivor," said attorney Thomas Neuberger, who represents the majority of the approximately 150 plaintiffs with claims against either the diocese or one of its parishes.
"At the beginning of the day, I thought there was no hope of a settlement, but we did make significant progress," said diocese attorney Tony Flynn. "We have reached an agreement in principle."
This will mean the end of all pending lawsuits seeking compensation for sexual abuse by priests against the diocese and its parishes.
Other legal claims involving religious orders are not a part of the agreement, but the deal sets out procedures for how those claims could be dealt with in the future. Neuberger said it was agreement on the non-monetary issues related to the release of files on abusive priests and the diocese agreeing to adopt policies and procedures to prevent abuse in the future that "broke the logjam."
"It goes way beyond anything else [done in other priest abuse cases] in the country," said Neuberger, adding that eventually there will be a public website with all the information "so the whole sordid history will be available."
Flynn said the financial part of the agreement will follow the general contours of the bankruptcy plan outlined by the Diocese of Wilmington in early January but with an additional $3.4 million set aside to pay survivor claims, which comes from additional money from insurance and some caps on attorney fees.
That January plan also required the approval of survivors in order to be accepted by the court, Flynn said. Now that there is agreement, Flynn said, "that ensures the plan will be confirmed."
The January plan also set aside money to ensure that pensions of lay employees would be fully funded, and Flynn said that remains in the agreement.
Survivor claims are now likely to be paid more quickly. The agreement calls for all claims to be paid about 30 days after the U.S. Bankruptcy Court approves the Diocese of Wilmington reorganization plan, which means survivors may have their money by June.
Retired Pennsylvania Judge Thomas Rutter, who served as a mediator during some negotiations between the sides, will serve as the arbitrator to decide individual amounts awarded to each survivor, using a set of factors that will be set out by the survivor's committee.
Neuberger said this is likely to include things like the nature of the abuse, the duration and the frequency.
The survivors have called a 2 p.m. press conference today to explain details of the plan and answer questions.
"Due to our long court battle, there has now been more public exposure of church child abuse, misdeeds and evil practices here in Delaware than in any other state," Neuberger said. "Due to the public release of secret church archives, which the Official Committee [of survivors] demanded, these records now will permanently see the light of day."
Contact Sean O'Sullivan at 324-2777 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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