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  Abuse Suits Involving 2 Ex-Priests Settled
Agreement by Catholic Diocese Will Pay Out a Total of $5 Million in 4 Cases

By Ed Housewright
Dallas Morning News
February 12, 1998

The Dallas Catholic Diocese has reached a $5 million settlement of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by two former priests who served at the same time as suspended priest Rudolph "Rudy" Kos.

Three of the four cases involved Robert Peebles Jr., who has admitted in a sworn deposition and medical records that he sexually abused seven to 16 boys in five assignments from 1979 to 1986.

The fourth case involved William Hughes, who was accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl in 1983 and 1984 while he was an assistant pastor at St. Luke Catholic Church in Irving.

Bishop Charles V. Grahmann said the diocese continues to try to reach a settlement with plaintiffs of the $ 154.3 million judgment against the diocese and Mr. Kos. He is accused of sexually abusing boys from 1981 to 1992 at churches in Dallas, Irving and Ennis.

"It's time for all of us to heal and go forward," the bishop said in a written statement. "This has been a difficult time for everyone involved and an important step has been made today in resolving a painful chapter in the history of our diocese."

The diocese's share of the $ 5 million settlement, reached Tuesday during court-ordered mediation in the Kos case, is $ 1.1 million, said diocese spokeswoman Lisa LeMaster. It will come from the sale of undetermined real estate, she said. The rest of the settlement amount will be paid by insurance companies representing the diocese and by other defendants.

Mr. Peebles and Mr. Hughes, who were defendants in the lawsuits, could not be reached for comment. The two of them and Mr. Kos all briefly worked together in 1981 and 1982 at All Saints Catholic Church in North Dallas.

Sylvia Demarest, the attorney who represented the Peebles and Hughes plaintiffs, said she thought she had strong cases. But she said she decided to settle partly to avoid a lengthy trial, which might not have begun until next year.

"I think it was a fair settlement for everybody involved," said Ms. Demarest, who also represented three of the 11 Kos plaintiffs.

"These cases have been hard-fought for a long time. Hopefully, now that the diocese has this behind them they can concentrate on trying to resolve the Kos case."

She said that trying the Peebles and Hughes cases would have been difficult because diocese lawyers had already seen some of her evidence during the Kos trial last summer.

"I always felt at the Kos trial that the diocese never knew what hit them in terms of the evidence," Ms. Demarest said. "They had already seen that now . That's a big deal. It was going to be a different kind of trial."

In contrast to the total $ 5 million offered to the five Peebles and Hughes plaintiffs in the four cases, she said the diocese offered a total of less than $ 500,000 to the 11 Kos plaintiffs before trial. One of the cases against Mr. Peeples was filed by two plaintiffs.

"When you've got a reasonable amount of money on the table, then the decision about how much to risk is a decision I felt I needed to leave to my clients," Ms. Demarest said. "They're very pleased to have this behind them.

"You don't know what you would have gotten at trial."

Three of the five Peebles and Hughes plaintiffs received more than $ 1 million each under the settlement, Ms. Demarest said. The other two received about $ 375,000 each.

The plaintiff who received the largest amount was sexually assaulted in 1984 at age 14 by Mr. Peebles after he became an Army chaplain at Fort Benning in Georgia.

The man, whose younger brother was a Kos plaintiff, said he was violently sexually assaulted for several hours after Mr. Peebles gave him more than a six-pack of beer to drink.

He said he has had nightmares continually since the incident and has physical scars from the attack. Mr. Peebles, his confirmation adviser at All Saints, had invited him to the Army base to take a tour and go fishing.

"I will never forget the details of that evening," said the man, who asked not to be identified. "It was horrific. There will never be a monetary amount that could compensate me or any other victims for what happened."

He said he had originally wanted the case to go to trial but decided to settle to try to get on with his life.

"I wanted the public to know and hear . . . that this is not just one priest, not just Kos," the man said.

The mother of the girl who was allegedly abused by Mr. Hughes testified during the Kos trial that church officials never reported the abuse to police and quietly transferred Mr. Hughes to another church.

She said she discovered the abuse in 1984 when she found more than 100 letters from Mr. Hughes to her daughter.

"We trusted this young man and had no idea he was molesting our daughter," the woman testified last summer. "We were in a state of shock."

Besides Mr. Peebles, another defendant in the case was the Military Vicariate, USA , which oversees chaplains. John Palter, a Dallas lawyer for the military vicariate, would not say how much it paid toward the settlement.

"These cases involved sensitive personal issues, as well as somewhat complex legal issues," Mr. Palter said. "I think the military vicariate hopes, with the resolution of these issues, that both the plaintiffs and the respective defendants can move on."

Dr. Ray McNamara, a Dallas psychologist who treated Mr. Peebles and the boy he is accused of abusing at the Army base, was another defendant. The boy's parents contended that Dr. McNamara acted inappropriately because he didn't reveal that he had worked with the diocese.

Dr. McNamara's attorney, Lancaster Smith Jr., would not disclose how much the doctor's insurance company paid toward the settlement.

Mr. Smith denied that Dr. McNamara did anything wrong.

"I think it is good for all the parties that we were able to put the case behind us," Mr. Smith said.

One of the diocese's insurers, Lloyd's of London, paid about $ 1 million of the settlement, said its lawyer, Jim Cowles. A lawyer for the other insurer, Interstate Fire & Casualty Co., would not say how much it contributed.

Both lawyers said their companies believe the diocese's policies do not cover clergy sexual abuse. But Mr. Cowles said "there is nothing absolute in this business."

"We're tickled to death that they're settling," he said. "I think it's great for everybody."

The diocese sued Lloyd's of London and Interstate less than 24 hours after the Kos verdict on July 24 to try to get them to pay the jury award. The two companies are part of the ongoing settlement talks in the Kos case.

 
 

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