$21.2 Million Settlement for Victims of 5 Priests
S.F. Archdiocese Faces 45 More Cases
By Wyatt Buchanan and Elizabeth Fernandez
San Francisco Chronicle
June 11, 2005
The Archdiocese of San Francisco agreed Friday to pay $21.2 million to people who were molested by five clergymen, including one priest who helped draft the so-called "zero tolerance" policy toward sexual abuse by clerics.
The settlement is the largest in Northern California and the second- largest in the state. The archdiocese will pay $6.6 million, and the remainder will come from insurance companies, a spokesman for the archdiocese said.
The 15 people receiving the settlement — 11 men and four women — were the victims of sexual abuse from priests throughout the 1970s and include three who won a jury award from a San Francisco jury in April.
Archbishop William Levada said he hopes the settlement will lead to the resolution of the remaining 45 cases pending against the San Francisco archdiocese.
"It is our hope that the settlement of these cases will facilitate the process of healing for these victims and also set the stage for a global settlement of the remaining cases," Levada said in a prepared statement. He also expressed his "sincere apology for the pain (the victims) have endured."
But attorneys and victim support groups blamed Levada for prolonging negotiations and adding to the emotional trauma of victims.
"This was a hard-fought battle that did not have to be fought at all," said Robert Mezzetti Jr., one of three attorneys involved in the settlement. "This case could have been settled a year and a half ago, but he did not let that happen. These cases settled because of the insurance carrier stepping forward. These cases did not settle because of the archbishop."
The clergymen involved in the settlement include the late Rev. Joseph Pritchard, who was responsible for 10 of the claims and served at St. Martin of Tours Church in San Jose. Three of those claims resulted in an April jury verdict against the church for $4.5 million. Pritchard died in 1988.
Another is the Rev. Leonel Noia, who was removed from the ministry in 2002; he was convicted of molesting a boy on a camping trip in 1976. He had served for 16 years as the pastor of Five Wounds Portuguese National Church in San Jose before being removed from ministry.
Also included are the Rev. Arthur Harrison, who served in San Jose and retired in 1990, and Guy Murnig, who left the priesthood to marry.
The most prominent priest involved in the settlement is the Rev. Gregory Ingels, a San Mateo priest who was one of four experts chosen by the Canon Law Society of America to advise U.S. bishops on abusive clerics. He was suspended from public ministry in 2002.
That resulted in a 47-page guide, titled "Guide to the Implementation of the U.S. Bishops' Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons."
It was published two months before he was arrested on molestation charges in 2003 stemming from 1972. The charges were tossed out a few months later as the result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a California law.
Ingels also served for the past two decades on the tribunal of the archdiocese that considers requests for marriage annulments by Catholics in San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties.
David Clohessy, head of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said he hopes the settlement will help bring the victims closer to healing.
"We also hope Catholics realize that settlements are the bare minimum," Clohessy said. "No amount of money can restore the stolen childhoods, fractured trust and shattered self-esteem that sex abuse victims and their families still suffer from today."
He said Levada has more work to do with victims before permanently leaving in August for his new post at the Vatican as a key aide to the pope.
"The archbishop should now personally visit each parish where these predators worked, and beg people who suspected, witnessed or experienced sex crimes to break their silence, get professional help and call the police," Clohessy said.
A representative of the Catholic lay organization, the Voice of the Faithful, said Friday's settlement likely means dioceses throughout the state could pay more than $1 billion to settle molestation claims.
"We're hoping for a global settlement for the whole state," said Ed Gleason, director of the organization for northern California.
The Diocese of Orange County agreed to pay $100 million to 87 victims last year, the largest settlement in the state. That action resolved all the claims against the diocese.
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