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  $ 600,000 More Awarded for Abuse
Punitive Damages Will Be Assessed against Archdiocese for Pedophile Priest

By Margaret Zack
Star Tribune
February 14, 1996

A civil jury in Hennepin County District Court awarded $ 600,000 in punitive damages Tuesday to a Prior Lake man who had been abused by a priest nearly 15 years ago.

That brings the total award in punitive and compensatory damages to more than $ 1 million for Dale Scheffler, 28.

He said he was abused by the Rev. Robert Kapoun in June 1981, but didn't realize he had been a victim or injured until he received counseling from another minister in October 1993.

The punitive damages will be assessed against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and are not covered by insurance.

Jeffrey Anderson, Scheffler's attorney, said it is only the second time a jury has assessed punitive damages against the archdiocese. In 1990 an Anoka County jury awarded $ 2 million in a case involving another priest, but the trial judge reduced the amount to $ 100,000.

"This is a historic moment," Anderson said. "The jury had the courage to say this has been concealed, covered up, denied long enough."

Punitive damages are given to punish offenders and to deter others from similar conduct.

The jury said the archdiocese acted with willful indifference to the rights and safety of others by employing Kapoun, and recklessly continued to employ him when it knew he was unfit.

Anderson had sought punitive damages of $ 10 million.

After the verdict Tuesday, Archbishop Harry Flynn sent a letter to parishes in the archdiocese that said, "For Dale and other members of our community who have been traumatized by sexual abuse by family members, strangers or clergy, we are deeply sorry."

"For some years now, we have been offering both prayers and support for the healing of those so harmed, and I want that to continue."

Flynn said the decision to keep Kapoun in the ministry after he acknowledged his wrongdoing was based on opinions of professional counselors and parishioners who thought he was capable of a healthy ministry, and on Kapoun's own profound spiritual conversion.

The punitive-damage award will hamper the archdiocese's ability to serve future needs, especially support for inner-city schools, outreach to the homeless and other social services, Flynn said.

Anderson told the jury in his closing argument Tuesday that a message needed to be sent to the archdiocese.

"The archdiocese enjoyed the services of this unfit priest for years. It kept the secret and avoided scandal and exposure," he said. "Compare what they did to the broken and shattered lives of Dale Scheffler and other victims."

The evidence is clear that the archdiocese was reckless when it assigned abusive priests to other parishes, Anderson said.

But that doesn't mean that retired Archbishop John Roach or his clergy intended the abuse, he said.

Kapoun, known as the Polka Padre for using polka music during masses, was ordained in 1964. He admitted abusing three boys, but denied abusing Scheffler. He has resigned from the three parishes he has served in Le Sueur County since 1984.

Anderson introduced evidence that the archdiocese had received information about abuse by four other priests. In some cases, they stayed in their parishes, and in others they were transferred.

Roach testified Monday that the archdiocese had made mistakes, but said that in the early 1980s little was known about how to handle pedophiles.

Andrew Eisenzimmer, attorney for the archdiocese, told the jury there was no dispute that there had been a serious hazard to the public or that abuse had gone on for a long time.

As a result of the experiences, the archdiocese has moved from having no policies and procedures to being a leader in handling such cases, he said. "This hasn't come overnight," he said. "It took years to learn how to respond."

He said that the archdiocese has been punished repeatedly by lawsuits, settlements and publicity and that it is time to move ahead.

 
 

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