Bishop Hartmayer Discusses Settlement of Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
Southern Cross - Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah
August 18, 2016
On July 5, 2016 the Diocese of Savannah announced that it had reached a $4.5 million settlement through mediation in a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse of a minor by Wayland Brown, a former priest of the Diocese, that was filed in Jasper County, South Carolina.
Recently, Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv. answered questions for the Southern Cross about the lawsuit and settlement.
Southern Cross: Bishop, What led up to the filing of the lawsuit?
Bishop: After receiving a phone call from Chris Templetonís pastor I was able to meet with Chris and his father and his pastor on December 17, 2014. Chris and I had an opportunity to talk one on one and discuss his life and the troubling events of his youth, including allegations of instances of sexual abuse by Wayland Brown. Much of that conversation obviously is confidential given our roles; however, it was my intent to help him in any way that I could, and I believe Chris was open and candid with me during our conversation.
At the end of my conversation with Chris, I asked his father and his pastor to join us to continue the discussion. I apologized for what Chris experienced and expressed my desire to help him to continue to heal. I told Chris and his father that I was proud of Chris for sharing his painful experiences with me. I wanted him to know that I would do whatever I could to help him heal the pain in his life.
I told Chris that the Diocese is committed to bring peace into his life, and I told him to go home and think about how the Diocese could help. At the end of the meeting, I felt like we were on the same page and would be working together to find Chris healing and peace. He expressed his appreciation for our meeting and that we would speak again after he had a chance to give some thought to how I and the Diocese could help him. However, I did not hear from Chris again after our meeting, and he would not return my calls.
S.C.: What happened next?
Bishop: The next communication that I received was in March, 2015 when I was notified that a lawsuit was filed by Chris naming me, Bishop Lessard, the Diocese of Savannah and Wayland Brown.
I read through the lawsuit and was saddened to see that the specifics, frequency and location of the allegations and instances of abuse were described very differently by Chrisís attorney than by Chris when we spoke in December. I wanted to reach out again to Chris to understand why, but it was apparent to me that Chris was no longer interested in talking with me.
S.C.: What was your involvement in the legal proceedings?
Bishop: I had limited involvement in the legal proceedings. I was deposed by Chrisís lawyer and several Diocesan priests were as well. I could not offer much testimony since these accusations occurred 30 years ago and I have been in the diocese less than five years. Chris was deposed at some point, which I was present for. I was again disheartened to read recently this impression that Chris was mistreated during the lawsuit he filed. That was not my impression from the events I participated in.
S.C.: What was the end result of legal action?
Bishop: The case proceeded with the attorneys doing interviews and taking depositions. Everything was now in the hands of the attorneys. I was notified that both parties would participate in a mediation process with a professional mediator in Atlanta at the end of June.
S.C.: What were the terms of the settlement?
Bishop: I am not permitted to speak about the mediation process except that the decision was made to resolve the case in a manner believed to be in the best interests of Chris and the Diocese as a whole. Those are not quick or easy decisions, and this one was made after considering all of the circumstances of the case and Chrisí needs. We ultimately agreed to a settlement of $4.5 million to be paid over the next 20 years.
S.C.: Where will the funds come from? Insurance or bank loans?
Bishop: Unfortunately, our insurance coverage in 1987 was just $100,000. We have no other funds to pay the settlement. The diocese decided not to secure an interest-bearing loan because it would increase our indebtedness.
The $4.5 million settlement becomes a burden on the entire diocese. We do not have that kind of money. Our operating budget is subsidized by outside charities which assist us in serving the needs of the people and the ministries in the diocese. Our only other source of income is the generosity of the people of the diocese. We pushed to structure the settlement over such a long period of time to lessen the burden to the Diocese.
S.C.: Does this mean any change in the outreach to victims of child molestation?
Bishop: No. We are constantly on guard for these concerns and always looking for ways to improve our processes. I am proud of the work our Diocese has done in responding to these types of issues and ensuring that the troubling events of the past remain only in our past and that all children are able to learn, worship and experience fellowship in our Diocese safely.
This is not only the goal of our Diocese but of all dioceses across the country. In 2002, the dioceses throughout the United States adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. We have maintained a hotline for anyone who has been abused by a volunteer or employee of the diocese. Those who suffer abuse are requested to first call the local law enforcement agency. We have consistently encouraged any abused victim to call law enforcement immediately.
The 2015 annual report on the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was released on May 20, 2016. The data collected covered the time between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2015. For the Diocese of Savannah the following data was reported:
11,548 children and 8,797 adults were trained to identify the warning signs of abuse and how to report them through our VIRTUS program.
8,761 of adults (99.6%) had undergone a National Criminal Background Check. 36 adults (.4%) requiring a background check had checks completed shortly after the end of the audit period.