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  St. Louis Archdiocese Settles 18 Sex Abuse Cases

Associated Press, carried in Belleville News-Democrat
August 27, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- The Archdiocese of St. Louis said Thursday it will pay $2 million to settle 18 civil claims of sexual abuse by five priests and a nun, who is now deceased, and that it plans to mediate an additional 16 cases still pending.

About one-third of the $2 million will be paid by insurance, the rest from general reserves, said Bernard Huger, attorney for the archdiocese.

Negotiations between archdiocesan attorneys and lawyers for the plaintiffs began in February with the help of professional mediators. The goal was to "resolve this thing expeditiously with as little controversy as possible, and without the adversity of a courtroom," Huger said.

With the help of arbitration professionals, each case wound its way through the process, with input from the alleged victim, family and doctor or therapist. An archdiocesan review committee heard and evaluated each story and assessed credibility, Huger said.

Huger noted that the statute of limitations had run out on most of the cases, meaning the archdiocese would have prevailed in court. But Ken Chackes, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said some victims did not realize they had been abused until much later, in part, because the archdiocese covered up the abuse it knew about.

The parties could not settle on three additional cases, but it's possible they still might. They are among the 16 cases still pending that the archdiocese hopes to settle, Huger said. Chackes said there likely will be more claims.

Varying, undisclosed amounts were awarded to each plaintiff to cover medical and mental health counseling.

The $2 million is separate from more than $1.6 million paid by the archdiocese in June to a St. Louis family that said the Rev. Gary Wolken -- now in prison -- sexually abused their son. In all, since 1994, the archdiocese has paid $5 million in sex abuse settlements.

Meanwhile, a victims' support group called on Archbishop Raymond Burke to go beyond civil settlements and "aggressively help find witnesses and victims who could aid in criminal prosecution of abusive clergy."

David Clohessy of St. Louis, national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he wanted to push Burke to "shift his focus, and help on the criminal side" by encouraging victims and witnesses to tell their story to police.

As part of the settlement, the archdiocese agreed to educate children about what is appropriate touching and to educate employees about recognizing child sexual abuse. It also will post the state child abuse hot line in all archdiocesan workplaces.

The five current or former priests involved in the settlements are Michael McGrath, Romano Ferraro, Robert Yim, Alexander R. Anderson and Bryan Kuchar. The nun is the late Judith Fisher.

McGrath was removed from the ministry in 1997 after working as a priest in St. Louis since 1975. Seventeen people have accused McGrath of abuse.

Ferraro was convicted in May of raping a boy in Massachusetts in the 1970s. A man in St. Louis filed a suit in January alleging that Ferraro had abused him in the early 1980s. Ferraro was suspended from priestly duties in 1988, and is serving a life sentence in Massachusetts.

Three men accused Yim of abuse while he was a priest in the archdiocese from 1974 until 1995, when he resigned from the priesthood. In 1990, then-Archbishop John L. May removed Yim from parish ministry.

Anderson, currently pastor of Most Sacred Heart church in Eureka, was accused of abusing a boy in the 1980s.

Anderson filed a suit against the accuser in return. The settlement of the case came in February with neither the priest nor his accuser withdrawing his accusations. The church, in what it called an act of kindness, agreed to pay Anderson's accuser $8,000 for past counseling and $14,500 for future medical costs.

Kuchar is serving three years in the St. Louis County Jail for abusing a boy in 1995.

Fisher, a former nun and teacher, allegedly had sexually abused a suburban St. Louis girl in the 1970s. She left her religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, in 1979.

 
 

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