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  15 Victims of Clergy Abuse Get $21 Million
Settlement Is Largest by S.F. Archdiocese

By Brandon Bailey
San Jose Mercury News [California]
June 11, 2005

In its largest settlement with clergy abuse victims to date, the Archdiocese of San Francisco will pay more than $21 million to 15 people who were sexually molested by Bay Area priests — including two popular San Jose pastors and an expert on church law who once advised American bishops on how to handle claims of sexual abuse.

The latest settlement, in the same range as previous awards, could become the standard for resolving more than 100 other claims against Roman Catholic dioceses in the Bay Area.

More than two-thirds of the settlement will come from insurance policies, and the archdiocese said none of the money will come from parish or school funds. Though the settlement works out to an average of $1.4 million for each individual, attorneys said the specific amounts varied for each person and would not be disclosed. All sides had praise for Friday's agreement — which several plaintiffs described as a great relief.

"I always wanted an apology. I gave up on that, but this is an acknowledgment," said Vivian Tipton, 42, who tried for years to convince San Jose church officials that she had been repeatedly molested in the 1970s by the Rev. Arthur Harrison at his cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He waspastor at St. Francis Cabrini parish in San Jose when he met Tipton's mother, but was not her parish priest.

Tipton said she had been prepared to tell her story to a jury, but was satisfied that the case was settled out of court.

"As long as it was going to trial, it's like he was still there in my life," she said of Harrison. "When I realized that the case was done, it was like he's gone."

Ten victims

In addition to claims by two women against Harrison, the settlement involves 10 victims of the late Rev. Joseph Pritchard, who was the popular pastor at St. Martin of Tours parish in San Jose during the 1970s.

That includes San Jose teacher John Salberg and two others who were awarded amounts ranging up to $1.6 million apiece by a jury in April. The three will receive the same amounts that the jury awarded, and both sides have agreed not to appeal.

The settlement also resolves claims by two brothers who were molested by the Rev. Leonel Noia, who later became a well-known pastor and community leader at Five Wounds parish in San Jose, and by a woman who was molested by two priests when she was a student at a Catholic high school in Marin County in the 1970s.

Church law expert

One of the Marin County priests was the Rev. Gregory Ingels, at one time a respected expert in church law who later served on a committee that helped U.S. bishops implement new policies adopted in 2002 for dealing with clergy sex abuse allegations.

Friday's agreement resolves most of the claims brought against the San Francisco archdiocese by three San Jose attorneys — Robert L. Mezzetti II, Jean Starcevich and Robert Tobin. Three years ago, the trio negotiated a $7.5 million settlement with Jesuit officials on behalf of two mentally retarded men who were abused when they were living and working at a Jesuit retirement center in Los Gatos.

The Diocese of San Jose was not a party in the current settlement because it was not formed until 1981, while the claims involved events that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, when Catholic churches in San Jose were supervised by the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Still unresolved are more than 100 additional claims against the archdiocese in San Francisco and Oakland, including 10 more claims involving Pritchard.

While attorneys have been negotiating for months, Mezzetti said settlement talks had stalled after the first claim by a Pritchard victim went to trial in March. The jury in that case awarded $437,000 to Dennis Kavanaugh, nearly twice what church attorneys had suggested but still less than some observers had expected.

New interest

But after a different jury awarded nearly $6 million to four more Pritchard victims in April, or an average of $1.5 million for each, Mezzetti said the archdiocese and its insurance carriers showed new interest in negotiating out of court.

From the plaintiffs' point of view, Mezzetti said the settlements eliminate the risk of going to trial. He added: "It allows them to begin moving forward with their lives."

In a statement, San Francisco Archbishop William Levada echoed that comment.

"During the course of the recent trials and settlement discussions, we have heard the victims' anger and grief over the impact that the abuse has had on their lives and the lives of their families and friends," Levada said.

Levada said he hoped the settlement would "facilitate the process of healing for these victims" and set the stage for settling the remaining cases. He added: "I again express to these victims, and all other victims of the clergy child abuse scandals, my sincere apology for the pain they haveendured."

WHY IT MATTERS

Allegations of clergy sexual abuse and official coverup have arisen in almost every large Roman Catholic diocese in the country. Church officials are struggling to make amends. Though a few dioceses have filed for bankruptcy, others have negotiated settlements without jeopardizing their solvency.

 
 

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