Former Palma Students Will Share in $16.5 Million Settlement in Sexual Abuse Cases
Monterey County Herald
May 23, 2013
Nine former Palma High School students are among the 400 people who will share a $16.5 million settlement by the Irish Christian Brothers for sexual abuse they suffered at schools affiliated with the order in the United States and Canada.
Seven of the nine are men who say they were sexually assaulted by The Rev. Gerald Funcheon when he was a chaplain at the school from 1984 to 1985. Funcheon, who is still a priest but housed in a secure "treatment" facility, admitted in sworn testimony last year that he molested one of the men, but denied the others.
The other Palma victims alleged they were molested by Brother Marcos Chavira and the late Brother Jerome Heustis.
Announced Thursday, the settlement is part of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy the Irish Christian Brothers and the Christian Brothers Institute of New York filed in April 2011 in response to more than 300 claims of sexual abuse in Seattle and Canada. It will be presented to the U.S. bankruptcy judge for approval in coming weeks.
Palma High is not one of the assets that will be used to pay the settlement. Though the school historically has been affiliated with the Irish Christian Brothers, it is incorporated separately from the religious order.
However, Palma may opt to settle with the nine claimants in an effort to insulate itself from civil lawsuits by them. Such protection would have to be approved by the judge and the victims' committee established in the bankruptcy in New York.
Palma's decision whether to do so could be critical to the school. On Thursday, a bill that would extend the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims passed the state Senate Appropriations Committee and moved toward a full vote on the Senate floor.
The current statute bars civil action after a victim of child molestation turns 26. Under the proposed bill, a victim could file a lawsuit against an institution responsible for employing a child molester up to age 30 or five years from when that victim discovers his or her adult psychological problems are related to the abuse, whichever is later.
It also opens a one-year window that would revive some older cases that were barred by an earlier statute of limitations.
"With the Christian Brothers case being settled and there being legislation to expand the statute of limitations in Sacramento, Palma has to ask itself whether it wants to settle nine cases or not," said Michael Pfau of Seattle, one of the attorneys who represent the Palma victims.
For Palma to seek protection, Pfau said, it would have to settle with one or more of the victims and seek affiliation with the settlement before it is officially approved by the judge, likely within the next two months.
Spokesman Kevin Elliott said Palma and its attorneys have not seen the settlement so have not explored their legal options.
"What I am certain of is that Brother (Dunne) is very glad that victims are beginning to see closure," said Elliott. "For him, they've always been the center of this and the constant presence in his prayers."
One of Funcheon's alleged victims, 1989 Palma graduate Steven Cantrell, said the settlement takes him one step closer to emotional resolution. It's been just over a year since news of the bankruptcy and lawsuits by other victims sparked his recovered memory of being assaulted by Funcheon on a camping trip when he was in eighth grade.
"It's been incredibly anxiety inducing," the Visalia ophthalmologist said, crediting his wife for her support through the ordeal. "And it's not just me. There are other survivors, your opening this (wound) up again and it's almost like it happened yesterday."
Cantrell filed a claim in the bankruptcy and also filed a lawsuit against Funcheon and his Crosier religious order last year. He has since learned that a lifelong friend was also victimized by the priest.
Cantrell said he's not decided if he will file suit against Palma. Because he is a "recovered memory" victim, he possibly could sue under the current statute of limitations.
"Hopefully it doesn't go that far," he said. "Hopefully Palma is going to be accountable on their own accord."
Cantrell, plaintiff Christopher Spedden and the claimants who opted to remain anonymous fault Palma for hiring Funcheon after he was driven out of Damien Memorial High School in Hawaii in 1983 following allegations he molested a number of students on a camping trip there.
Court records reveal the Crosier order had been "butterflying" Funcheon around the country for years in the wake of sexual assaults on children from Florida to Hawaii.
James Stang, the attorney for the victims committee, said the bankruptcy settlement also provides for steps by the Christian Brothers that will safeguard children from future abuse.
"From the beginning, this committee has focused on protecting kids," said Stang. "So they've made sure that this agreement includes a broad range of solid prevention measures and I commend them for their compassion and hard work."
Since 2002, nine other bankruptcies have been filed by Catholic dioceses and religious orders across the United States. Stang said the Christian Brothers Chapter 11 cases are unique because of the significant number of other parties who also are liable for the abuse and the geographic range of the cases.
Virginia Hennessey can be reached at 753-6751 or firstname.lastname@example.org