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  Diocese Settles Suits for $7.3 Million

By Guy Kovner
Press Democrat
June 30, 2005

Santa Rosa's Roman Catholic Diocese announced Wednesday the settlement of eight of nine remaining child sexual abuse lawsuits for $7.3 million, nearly closing a four-decade saga of stolen innocence and shattered faith.

Since 1990, the diocese now has paid or promised to pay more than $19.2 million to victims of sex abuse by priests.

The diocese, which had raised the possibility of being forced into bankruptcy by the victims' claims, said it will pay about one-fourth of the $7.3 million settlement, or $1.825 million. Insurance carriers will pay the bulk of the settlement, diocese attorney Dan Galvin said.

Bankruptcy is "no longer under consideration," he said.

No funds or other assets of the diocese's 43 parishes from Petaluma to the Oregon border will be used to pay the diocese's portion of the settlement, Galvin said.

Revelations of child-molesting priests surfaced in the diocese in 1994, eight years before the scandal erupted nationwide, drawing the pope, U.S. bishops, police, prosecutors and lawyers into a prolonged effort to unravel the wrongdoing and assure the safety of Catholic children.

As payments by the 150,000-member Santa Rosa Diocese mounted and two priests were convicted of sex crimes, North Coast Catholics found their faith tested -- torn in some cases -- while fears of legal claims discouraged donations to the church.

On Wednesday, the end of the angst and uncertainty seemed close for victims as well as church officials.

"It's a huge relief. The closing of a chapter," said Greg Sloan of Sonora, one of the eight plaintiffs whose case was resolved.

Sloan, 48, a former Calistoga altar boy, declined to say how much he was paid. He said he would use the settlement for continued counseling and to set up trust funds for his six children, ages 9 to 23.

Neither the names, other than Sloan's, nor the amounts paid to each of the eight victims were disclosed, but a plaintiff's attorney said the settlements ranged upward from $250,000.

Counting a $3.3 million settlement reached in April, the diocese has agreed to pay more than $10.6 million to settle nine cases filed in 2002 and 2003 involving allegations against three priests. A 10th lawsuit is pending.

Bishop Daniel Walsh did not make himself available for interviews Wednesday. Diocese officials said he was on vacation and released a written statement in which Walsh said justice had been done.

"This settlement provides just and reasonable compensation for the victims of past abuse, while preserving the spiritual and material ministries of the diocese throughout the Northern California region," Walsh said in the statement.

Larry Drivon, an attorney for the eight victims, said no amount of money could make them whole.

"Their lives will be forever affected," he said.

But he said that in terms of money "we believe that substantial justice has been done."

Drivon and other plaintiffs' lawyers announced Wednesday a $35 million settlement of 33 sex abuse lawsuits against the Sacramento Diocese. Payments ranged from $400,000 to $4.2 million per plaintiff.

Drivon said the Sacramento Diocese agreed to settle just "two minutes" before a trial in one of the cases was to start.

Three weeks ago, the San Francisco Archdiocese settled 15 lawsuits for $21.2 million.

"I'm relieved that it's almost over," said Tricia Shindledecker, a parishioner of St. Eugene Cathedral in Santa Rosa. "It's not an open albatross around your neck. It's a healing thing to have it done with and to go forward with the real work of the church."

The Santa Rosa Diocese may take out a short-term loan to cover the payment not covered by insurance, Galvin said.

Walsh reiterated his pledge that no capital campaign funds or other "restricted donations" would be used to fund any settlement.

"It is my hope that this settlement will bring not only a measure of healing to the victims, but also an end to the uncertainty among parishioners about the financial future and stability of this diocese," Walsh said in his statement.

Galvin said he was hopeful that the ninth and final lawsuit could be settled by year's end. But attorney Katherine Freberg of Irvine said more than a year of settlement talks has been fruitless and she is preparing to go to trial.

Freberg's client, a 27-year-old Chicago man, alleges he was molested by former priest Gary Timmons in 1989.

Final details of the eight settlements were worked out Tuesday night, lawyers said. The cases involved four complaints involving former priest Don Kimball and two each involving Timmons and the late Rev. Patrick Gleeson, who died in 1991.

The lawsuits sought no payments from or penalties against the priests. Instead, the suits sought compensation from the diocese on the grounds that officials knew or should have known priests were molesting children.

Criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits involving decades-old child sex crimes are now barred by law.

Drivon said the settlements culminated a year and a half of negotiations. Walsh's desire "to get these cases behind him" was instrumental in the agreements, Drivon said.

Drivon and Galvin credited the efforts of retired Sonoma County Superior Court Judge William Bettinelli, who mediated the settlement talks.

The settlements did not include any admission of wrongdoing by the diocese, plaintiffs' attorneys said.

"Our only hope is that this is a lesson learned," attorney Jeff Anderson said.

The diocese has acknowledged 16 priests were accused of molesting 59 children in the past 40 years.

Dioceses around the country have spent at least $1 billion on settlements with victims, verdicts, legal fees, counseling and other expenses since 1950.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or gkovner@pressdemocrat.com.

PHOTO: mug: Bishop Daniel Walsh

Infobox: PAYMENTS FOR SEX ABUSE

$19.2 million With the announced settlement of eight child sex abuse cases, the Santa Rosa Diocese has acknowledged payments of $19,215,000 to dozens of victims of sex abuse by priests during the past four decades. Insurance covers an undisclosed portion of that amount. The diocese has refused to reveal details of payments totaling $5,052,900. The disclosed payments are:

$7,300,000 to be paid to eight claimants, including Greg Sloan, victim of the late Rev. Patrick Gleeson.

$3,315,000 to be paid to Roberta Saum, victim of Don Kimball.

$1.6 million to four victims of Kimball.

$830,000 to nine victims of Gary Timmons.

$561,000 to multiple abuse victims from a discretionary fund kept by former Bishop Patrick Ziemann.

$450,000 to a victim of Austin Peter Keegan.

$56,100 to a victim of Patrick O'Shea.

$50,000 to one victim of Timmons.

 
 

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