Archdiocese Delayed Revealing Sexual Abuse Claim, Firm Says

By Peter Shinkle
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
June 18, 2004

Critics of the Archdiocese of St. Louis have long accused it of not revealing the truth about sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Now an insurance company covering the archdiocese is making the same claim.

The dispute comes after the archdiocese agreed in April to pay $1,675,000 to a St. Louis family that claimed the Rev. Gary Wolken sexually abused a boy. Wolken pleaded guilty of multiple counts of sodomy and molestation, and was sentenced last year to 15 years in prison.

The Evanston Insurance Co. has filed a suit alleging that the archdiocese failed to inform it of the sexual abuse in a timely manner, and so the insurer should not be forced to pay about a $1.5 million share of the settlement.

The company said its policy protected the archdiocese from claims over any "wrongful act," which the policy defined to include "any act of unlawful sexual intimacy, sexual molestation or sexual assault."

The policy required the archdiocese to inform the insurer of any sexual abuse claim within 30 days of learning of it, the suit says.

The archdiocese first learned of the abuse claim in this case in March 2002, but didn't tell the insurance company until early 2003, the suit contends. As a result, Evanston says, the archdiocese is not entitled to coverage.

The archdiocese denies the suit's allegations and says it is entitled to be reimbursed for the bulk of the Wolken settlement. "Evanston has breached its policy of insurance by refusing to pay this claim," the archdiocese said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, Evanston is forcing this matter into litigation and, because the matter is in litigation, the archdiocese will make no further comment at this time," it said.

Evanston is a subsidiary of Markel Corp., based in Glen Allen, Va., a large seller of professional liability and specialty insurance.

Evanston filed its suit under seal last month in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, and on June 3, it filed a revised version omitting the names of some defendants. The second version is open to the public.

The insurance company claims the archdiocese negotiated an extension of the insurance policy for an additional month, from July 1 to Aug. 1, 2002, but failed to inform the insurance company of the abuse complaint during that period. Evanston says it only received notice of the claim eight months after the policy expired in August 2002.

The archdiocese said it is seeking reimbursement of slightly more than $1.5 million. The amount is less than the total settlement in the Wolken case, as Evanston said the archdiocese has a self-insurance fund that covers part of the payment


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