Church Settles, but Priest Wants Day in Court
By Jay Weaver
July 1, 2005
The Archdiocese of Miami has agreed to pay the largest South Florida settlement in a Catholic clergy-sex abuse case - more than $500,000.
The payout, disclosed Thursday, resolved a 1998 lawsuit involving a high-school girl who claimed a priest at St. David's Church molested her when she worked at the Davie parish, according to her lawyers, who would not provide the specific amount.
The lawyers also said they have almost reached an agreement for less than $500,000 in the same suit involving another woman who alleged that the Rev. Jan Malicki sexually assaulted her when she worked in the parish and sought marriage counseling.
The two South Florida women intend to go to trial against Malicki, 56, who was also named in the lawsuit. Malicki did not want to settle because he says he did nothing wrong.
"Our clients want justice; they want their claims validated," the plaintiffs' lawyers, William Snihur and May Cain, said Thursday in a phone interview.
They said their settlement surpassed the previously reported highest archdiocese payout - $500,000 to a boy who accused a priest of molesting him at a North Miami nursing home.
The Miami archdiocese confirmed there was a settlement in the Davie parish case but would not disclose the amount.
Malicki, who has been placed on suspension, was at such odds with church leaders that he sued the archdiocese for defamation. That case was dismissed in 2003, but Malicki still faced the suit filed by the two former workers at St. David's Church.
VOWS TO FIGHT
"We're going to fight this," Malicki's lawyer, Ellis Rubin, told The Herald. "He wants to clear his name by jury trial. His whole career and life are at stake."
The women's case was distinctive because it predated about 35 lawsuits filed against the Miami archdiocese after the clergy sex-abuse scandal rocked the Catholic Church in 2002. Nearly all of those cases involved alleged abuse of young boys and have been resolved through archdiocese payouts ranging from $75,000 to $500,000.
Moreover, the Malicki suit became a Florida Supreme Court test case because the archdiocese tried to argue that the First Amendment protected it from responsibility for clergy misconduct. The high court ruled that the archdiocese was not constitutionally protected from the suit, which claimed negligent hiring and supervision of Malicki.
"They were always trying to make this case the example," Snihur said.
After that 2002 Supreme Court decision, the archdiocese was hit with a wave of lawsuits that alleged dozens of priests abused minors, mostly altar boys, decades ago.
In February, the archdiocese reported that it paid $5.2 million last year to victims of alleged sexual abuse by priests to settle 31 negligence suits - more than double its payouts during the previous 37 years.
Archbishop John Favalora, in a special section published in The Florida Catholic newspaper, said that no funds collected at weekly Masses, in donations from parishioners or from the annual Archbishop's Charity Drive were used for the settlements.
He said all the money came from an in-house insurance program.
But Rubin, and other lawyers who have settled with the archdiocese, say they question whether all the payout money comes from the insurance program.
"It is unfortunate that the parishioners and members of the Catholic faith in the Archdiocese of Miami will have to pay these women, who don't deserve a dime," Rubin said.
But the lawyers for the women said the Miami archdiocese recognized that the evidence against Malicki was solid. Also, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has directed archdioceses around the country to settle legitimate clergy sex-abuse claims.
Said Snihur: "The church would not have paid out what they agreed to if they didn't believe our clients."
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