Additional Claims against Stockton Diocese
By Jennie Rodriguez-Moore
September 17, 2014
The Diocese of Stockton said it has received 34 claims of sexual abuse since it notified the public of a deadline to file such claims imposed by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
In a statement, the diocese also announced that no priest in active ministry was named in those claims.
Diocese leaders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in January, saying its finances have been drained by legal costs and settlements arising from claims of child sexual abuse by priests.
Over the past two decades, those costs have mounted to $32 million for the diocese, which oversees parishes in San Joaquin, Calaveras, Stanislaus, Tuolomne, Alpine and Mono counties.
Following the bankruptcy filing, the courts set Aug. 15 as the deadline for anyone thereafter to file such a claim.
Sister Terry Davis, spokeswoman for the diocese, said information on the claims that have been filed is confidential because the cases still are in mediation.
At the time the diocese took its financial troubles to court, it already had settled about 31 civil lawsuits on child sex abuse, spending millions on them and depleting its reserves.
More recently, in 2012, it resolved a case with $3.75 million — the largest settlement in the diocese’s history — after abuse survivor Travis Trotter alleged former Stockton priest Michael Kelly molested him decades ago.
Kelly fled to his native Ireland in the middle of the trial after he was found personally liable by a civil jury.
Criminal charges against Kelly have been filed in Calaveras County, where a different victim took his case to authorities.
Lawsuits continued to pour in.
Four civil suits were pending when the diocese filed for bankruptcy, and they included individuals who said they were molested by Kelly or defrocked priest Oliver O’Grady.
O’Grady, who was criminally convicted in San Joaquin County in the 1990s, admitted to abusing children, and his crimes were chronicled in the 2006 documentary film “Deliver Us from Evil.”
Bishop Stephen Blaire, who was appointed to the Stockton diocese in 1999, has said that the diocese has since taken steps to ensure the safety of children.
He was not available for comment Tuesday.
Davis said she could not comment much on the claims or name the accused perpetrators since the cases are ongoing and part of the bankruptcy process.
Tim Lennon, a San Francisco-based victims advocate, suspects a number of victims were unable to come forward due to the deadline, which he called “callous.” He said he believes the actual number of victims is much higher.
Lennon also is dissatisfied that the church has not released the names in the claims of the priests or individuals accused of abuse.
“Even predator priests who are ‘not in active ministry’ are still dangerous,” said Lennon, a representative of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “That's why it's crucial that Stockton's bishop lets parishioners, police and the public know who and where they are.”
Lennon believes the diocese and the church does not want to make details public that will make them liable. He added that confidentiality does not prevent the bishop from publicly disclosing the names, whereabouts and work history of the “proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesting clerics.”
“We beg anyone who saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes and coverups in Stockton — regardless of whether the wrongdoers are deceased or alive, diocesan or religious order, still in the area or elsewhere — to speak up, get help, contact the police and appropriate secular authorities,” Lennon said.
The diocese said in the statement that it conducted extensive outreach over a three-month period to make potential claimants aware of the deadline.
Efforts included mailing notices to households on church and Catholic school mailing lists and publishing notices in more than two dozen newspapers.
The claims that were submitted are expected to be evaluated by the diocese and a court-appointed committee of creditors.
The standard process “is designed to allow the Diocese and its creditors to negotiate a reorganization plan that resolves outstanding claims as fairly as possible, while allowing the Diocese to continue the ministries and services it provides to local communities,” the diocese’s statement said.
The statement also said the diocese will continue keeping the public updated and post certain documents on the website kccllc.net/stocktondiocese.