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  Diocese OK'd Prior Settlements

By Ziva Branstetter
Tulsa World [Oklahoma]
August 7, 2002

Insurance agreements were approved in two suits involving sexual abuse by a Catholic deacon. The Diocese of Tulsa has in the past approved nearly $800,000 in insurance settlements in two lawsuits involving sexual abuse by a Catholic deacon at a Claremore church, church officials said Monday.

Meanwhile, the church reported Tuesday that a priest who is accused of molesting a Pryor girl is no longer a member of the clergy, and a judge has ruled in a different case that an alleged victim of priest molestation must reveal the names of two key witnesses.

Bishop Edward Slattery said the lawsuit settlements were not paid with diocese funds but were funded by the National Catholic Risk Reten tion Group, a self-insurance pool to which dioceses across the country contribute.

"We're a stockholder in this insurance company for this very purpose," he said.

The lawsuits were filed in 1993 and 1995 by families of two victims in a sexual abuse case at St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Claremore.

The Tulsa World has learned that the insurance company paid out $750,000 in October 1993 to settle a lawsuit that was filed that year and later paid $44,000 to settle a 1995 lawsuit.

In the criminal case that led to those lawsuits, Morris Dale Vanderford was sentenced in 1993 to 60 years in prison after pleading guilty to 13 counts of sexual abuse of two boys at the church.

Vanderford had been a deacon at the church for seven years and was responsible for training youths in religious practices at the church.

He originally was charged with five counts of forcible sodomy, one count of indecent exposure and five counts of lewd molestation.

Chuck Richardson, an attorney for the plaintiffs in both cases, said the settlements were made "in the best interest of the client ... and due to the amount of money that was being offered."

Slattery said during a press conference last week that the diocese had not made settlements in abuse cases.

John Jarboe, an attorney for the diocese, said Slattery was referring to settlements paid by the diocese itself rather than by the insurance company.

The diocese has also paid for counseling for three alleged victims of priest sexual abuse or misconduct.

Maillet has said the diocese would provide an accounting of those costs.

Meanwhile, Maillet said the Tulsa Diocese had contacted a diocese in India, where former priest John Jangam was sent after he was accused of molesting a Pryor girl.

Jangam is no longer a priest and is not operating a Catholic orphanage, Maillet said the Indian bishop reported.

In a July 31 telephone interview, Jangam had told the Tulsa World he was still a priest and was running an orphanage.

In Tulsa County District Court on Tuesday, District Judge David Peterson issued an order in an unrelated case requiring the alleged victim to reveal the names of two witnesses in another instance alleging sexual abuse by a priest.

Peterson ordered that the names be revealed by noon Monday.

The Rev. Paul Eichhoff was placed on administrative leave last week after an allegation was made that he had sexual contact with two minors 25 years ago.

Eichhoff was a pastor at St. Cecilia Church, but the alleged incidents occurred at St. Mary's Elementary School in Tulsa in the late 1970s, court records state.

Eichhoff has filed a slander lawsuit in Tulsa County District Court, stating that a Tulsa man and his father have falsely accused him of child sexual assault and molestation.

The Tulsa World has not named the defendants in the lawsuit because the newspaper has a policy of not naming victims alleging sexual assault, rape or other sex crimes.

A motion filed by Eichhoff's attorney, Ken Brune, said the man who has accused Eichhoff has refused to provide the names of two key witnesses in the case, reportedly a classmate at St. Mary's and a nun who worked at the school.

"It is unconscionable to permit the defendant ... to refuse to identify the names of two persons in addition to himself whom he claims have knowledge of the alleged sexual misconduct while Father Eichhoff is held up to public humiliation without the opportunity to defend himself," the motion states.

Brune said Eichhoff denies the allegations.

"I can tell you that he (Eichhoff) did not do these things," Brune said. "We don't have anything to hide."

Eichhoff is a member of several diocese committees that advise Slattery. He also presided over the funeral of Gov. Frank Keating's mother.

A July 30 letter to Slattery written by the alleged victim states: "I experienced two encounters of extremely high stress events at the hands of Father Paul Eichhoff at Saint Mary's Grade School in the late 1970s."

It goes on to describe the alleged sexual encounters and then states: "Overwhelming threats of loss of everything (home, parents, brothers and sisters, God's love and going to hell) were made if I told anyone of these occurrences."

The statement asks the diocese to pay for treatment and "compensation for the loss of this significant portion of my life."

It says the man requires treatment before he can determine the amount of compensation required.

A Pennsylvania psychologist treating the man also wrote a letter to Slattery stating that the man needs treatment for "complex post-traumatic stress disorder, an interactive addictive disorder (more than one), diagnosis and treatment of his learning difference, diagnosis and treatment of his bipolar disorder and appropriate medication management."

The letter from Dr. Wayne Pellegrini states that the man needs "immediate in-patient treatment to address the above assessment needs as well as detoxification from current addictions."

In a letter to the man's attorney, W.R. Cathcart, Pellegrini states that the man should not be forced to undergo a deposition in Eichhoff's slander lawsuit. The letter states that the man has developed "disease of memory" due to "high stress events in the past."

"I question the rationale ... about exposing him to such a high stress event at this time when he could have a panic attack, a seizure, a stroke etc. in response to an unconscious memory surfacing under hostile questioning from an opposing attorney in a deposition."

Cathcart said Tuesday that he is discussing the issues with his client.

He would not comment on why the names of the witnesses have not been revealed.

"The family has a deep faith in the church but is saddened in the manner in which the church has responded to this," Cathcart said.

 
 

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