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  Plaintiffs Greet Announcement with Mixed Emotion, Seek Healing

By Wolfson Andrew Lindenberger Michael
Courier-Journal
June 11, 2003

Some said the money would never take away their pain - and that they won't be satisfied until Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly resigns. But other plaintiffs who sued the Archdiocese of Louisville said the settlement announced last night will allow their healing to start.

"I am thrilled - them admitting guilt was worth more than any dollar amount," said Paul R. Barrett, a Shelbyville body-shop owner who claimed he was molested in 1981 by the Rev. Daniel C. Clark at St. Rita parish. "We are no longer alleged victims. We are victims."

Several said the case was never about money, but others said that the amount - $25.7million - will not be enough, considering that there are so many plaintiffs to divide it among. Still others said the amount gives credibility to their claims.

"In our society, unfortunately, money is the way we measure guilt, so the settlement gives some sense of satisfaction," said H. Douglas Dukes, 50, who alleged he was molested by the late Rev. Arthur Wood in 1966 at St. Polycarp parish.

Jeffery Koenig, a trucker who learned of the settlement as he was hauling motor oil from Chicago to Madison, Ind., said, "I think the archdiocese stepped up to the plate and did the right thing."

Koenig, who also alleged he was abused by Clark at St. Rita, said he thinks it is fair that the amount awarded to each plaintiff will be based on how many times they were abused, at what age, and other factors. "I wasn't looking to get rich," he said. "I was just looking for what was equitable for me."

Lead plaintiffs' counsel William McMurry said the archdiocese's decision to turn over more than half its liquid assets lent "dignity and credibility to each of the 243 plaintiffs."

John. L. Mills, 49, a heavy-equipment operator from New Albany, Ind., who claimed he was molested in the early 1960s by two priests and a housekeeper at the Cathedral of the Assumption, said: "This was never a monetary issue for me. It was about bringing closure to the sexual abuse I suffered as a child."

Although McMurry said the court would have to approve attorneys' fees, Mills said he would have no objections to McMurry and other lawyers getting the 40 percent contingency agreed up when he and others filed their lawsuits last year.

"They were always there for us," Mills said of the attorneys. "They always listened and never put me on hold ."

Luana Borders Hester, who alleged she was molested by Monsignor Robert A. Bowling in the early 1960s at Holy Cross parish in Loretto, Ky., praised the plaintiffs' legal team and said they deserved their fees. "Without them, the truth never would have come out," she said.

But Dr. William Handelman, a St. Petersburg, Fla., cardiologist who alleged he was abused by the Rev. Louis Miller at Holy Spirit as a sixth-grader in 1960 and 1961, said he doesn't think the settlement amount would cover the damages - "the lost careers, the damaged relationships, the counseling."

MARK GOOTEE, 43, of Oldham County, who contended he was molested by Miller in 1973 when he was an altar boy at St. Aloysius, said: "Nothing could take away the pain. Money is not going to make it go away."

His niece, Kitti Marie (Gootee) Smith, who alleged she was molested by Miller at St. Aloysius from 1972 to 1974, said: "I think it does help, but I don't think I am the ... person I would have been if I hadn't been on a collision course with Father Miller.

"People say, 'Get over it,'" said Smith, of Prospect. "But until you have been violated - have had someone touch your very soul, you can't say that. I don't know how to get over it."

Echoing other plaintiffs, Hester, who was raised Catholic but no longer practices, said, "I am sorry that the Catholic people will have to suffer for what a few priests did."

After a briefing by their attorneys at Masterson's Restaurant in Old Louisville, many plaintiffs said last night that what pleased them most was the fact that the archdiocese had, in their eyes, finally accepted as true their allegations about years of abuse.

"The best thing is that they admitted guilt," said Joetta "Jodi" Stone Blair, who was one of three women who alleged they were abused by the Rev. Kevin Cole at Bellarmine College, now Bellarmine University.

Dr. J. Boswell Tabler, a psychiatrist who was one of 27 plaintiffs who alleged they were molested by Miller at Holy Spirit, said: "Our main concern was to make sure this didn't happen again. We scored a victory."

Tabler cited the archdiocese's admission of responsibility and a provision in the settlement establishing a program in the schools to teach children how to avoid sex abuse; the program will be coordinated by the commonwealth's attorney's office.

Martin Robertson, 50, another former student at Holy Spirit who alleged he was molested by Miller there, said after the briefing: "I don't know how I feel ... I am in shock, and I feel like crying. This is something that has been going on since I was 7. It's guided everything about my life."

Robertson said the abuse led him to begin drinking while in middle school. He said he plans to write a book about his childhood experiences at Miller's hands and said that he had been required to keep that secret until after the settlement was announced.

Louis E. Smith, 34, who alleged he was molested by Clark at St. Rita, said the abuse he suffered as a boy made it difficult for him to form close relationships as a young man. Smith, who has three children, said he plans to use the money from the settlement to help his family find a better home.

Steven Mudd, 49, who alleged he was fondled by Wood in 1966, when he was 12, said he was happy with the settlement. "It's a lot less than we asked for, but it is more than I expected. The church has always been pretty thrifty when it comes to paying out money."

Mudd said he was satisfied with the church's apology and settlement, while others said it is not enough.

"Archbishop Kelly will have to resign for this to be complete," said Patrick Meehan, 52, one of 94 plaintiffs to name Miller in their lawsuits.

SEVERAL OF the plaintiffs had gathered for a prayer vigil outside the chancery on College Street last night.

One of them, Gregory C. Hall, said he was happy with some portions of the settlement but wished the dollar figure was higher. "This is good for the future, but for us, as victims, we got screwed. My ... therapy cost more than that."

Shannon Age, who along with her sister, Debbie Ernspiker, allege they were raped by the Rev. Kevin Cole, said she was pleased the church had admitted responsibility and guilt. The money was secondary, she said.

"It could never be enough," said Age, who was carrying a Bible. "They could give us each $100million, but they can never give us back our childhood. They can never give back our innocence, and with Debbie and me, they will never be able to give us back our virginity."

At a news conference late last night at McMurry's office in eastern Louisville, Michael Turner, 45, a construction company owner who filed the first lawsuit against the archdiocese in 2002, said he learned about the settlement yesterday as he was walking into his therapist's office.

"It was a thrill," he said.

The flood of lawsuits began April 19, 2002, when Turner of Prospect, sued the archdiocese, claiming that he was sexually abused by Miller in the 1970s and that the archdiocese knew Miller was a "sexual predator."

Turner, 44, alleged that Miller sexually abused him while Turner was attending St. Aloysius Church and School in Pewee Valley, where Miller was working in the 1970s.

THE LAWSUITS were triggered by an April 14, 2002, front-page story in which The Courier-Journal reported that two people had gone to court with allegations against Miller in the previous dozen years. The story reported how Miller retired the month before, after the archdiocese received a complaint against him - the latest of several it has received over the past dozen years, alleging he abused children in the 1960s and 1970s.

Like those that followed, Turner's lawsuit alleged that the church failed to report allegations of abuse to police or to warn parishioners about Miller - arguments considered crucial, because people normally cannot sue for alleged injury suffered many years earlier.

A Courier-Journal analysis of the lawsuits last fall found that the plaintiffs alleged that their abuse started, on average, when they were 11 years old; two claimed they were first abused at age 5. Two-thirds said it happened more than once, and some said they were molested two or three or 10 times or more. Eighty-five percent of them were boys.

One-fourth of those interviewed said that they or their parents reported their alleged abuse to church or school authorities, although many of those reports could not be confirmed because the officials are dead or plaintiffs said they could not remember the authorities' names. But well over half of those interviewed said they told nobody about the abuse when it allegedly happened .

The reporters can be reached at awolfson@courier-journal.com and mlindenberger@courier-journal.com.

Kelly's statement

Tonight, we are announcing that we have been able to reach a mediated settlement with the attorneys for 243 civil suits against the Archdiocese. With the help of a professional mediator and after five challenging and difficult days, we settled late this afternoon in the amount of $25.7 million.

I attended the first day of mediation and then entrusted the rest of the negotiations to Dr. Brian Reynolds, our chancellor, and our attorneys.

Before Brian describes the process, let me say a few things to the victims and to the Catholic people.

First, the victims. No child should ever have had to experience what happened to you. I promise that we are doing everything we can to prevent child abuse in the church. I apologize for what we did or what we failed to do that led to your abuse. I hope that today's settlement is seen as a sign of our willingness to support you in your healing.

And to the Catholic people. These past 14 months have been terribly difficult and painful for all of us - victims, priests and parishioners. However, I believe that with this settlement we have begun to respond to the painful experiences that these men and women had as children and to seek forgiveness for the mistakes we have made.

Our goals in the mediation process were threefold: 1) justice and fairness for victims; 2) preservation of the mission of the church; and 3) protection of parish savings and property. The implications of this settlement will be tough for the Church, but I believe that we have accomplished these goals. This Archdiocese has served the Commonwealth of Kentucky for nearly 200 years, and we will continue to serve. Now let's begin the process of healing.

 
 

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