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  Priest-Abuse Trials on Fast Track

By Ashbel S. Green
The Oregonian
May 25, 2006

SUMMARY: Portland Archdiocese | A string of long-standing cases will start to go before juries in the next few months A federal bankruptcy judge on Wednesday approved an aggressive priest-abuse trial schedule that could soon put some of the most notorious Oregon cases before juries and also allow priests who proclaim their innocence to get their day in court.

The first case, which is scheduled to go to trial in September, involves the Rev. Rocco Perone, a deceased priest who is accused of molesting more than a dozen boys while he worked at St. Philip Neri in Southeast Portland from 1951 to 1956.

Trials involving the Rev. Maurice Grammond and the Rev. Thomas Laughlin, Oregon's most prolific pedophile priests, are scheduled for October and January, respectively.

Priests who deny the charges are also on the early part of the schedule.

A trial is scheduled in February involving the Rev. Michael Sprauer, who disputes accusations that he molested boys while he was a chaplain at a juvenile jail in Woodburn in the 1970s. A trial is scheduled for April involving the Rev. Donald Durand, who denies sexually abusing more than half a dozen boys starting in the 1960s.

The schedule, parts of which still need final approval from federal and state judges, sets out a timeline for the first Catholic priest-abuse lawsuit to go to trial in Oregon.

More than 250 people in Western Oregon have accused Catholic priests and other church and lay officials of sexual abuse, but no lawsuits have reached a jury. Around the country, about a dozen priest-abuse cases have gone to trial out of the thousands of lawsuits that have been filed, said Jeff Anderson, a Minneapolis attorney who has been involved in cases around the country.

The reason: Most suits are settled out of court or are dismissed.

In Oregon, the Portland Archdiocese and its insurers spent $53 million to settle with 130 accusers dating to 1950.

But in July 2004 --on the day a case involving Grammond was scheduled to go to trial in Multnomah County --Portland became the first Catholic Archdiocese to seek bankruptcy protection because of priest-abuse litigation.

The move put all pending cases on hold to give church officials and priest accusers an opportunity to reach a settlement that would end the bankruptcy. Mediation failed, and the two sides have since proposed widely different plans. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth L. Perris recently decided to allow cases to go to trial in order to get an idea of what it would cost to settle about 125 priest-abuse claims.

Attorneys for the archdiocese say about $40 million probably will cover the claims. They have proposed a process for estimating claims to get a firmer number.

Attorneys for priest accusers have not estimated how much it will take to settle the cases, but they oppose any cap on payments, saying the church has enough assets to cover all claims.

Church officials dispute what assets they own, and the true value of the archdiocese is unresolved.

In a related matter, a company hired to estimate the value of lawsuits by people who have not yet come forward said in a document filed Tuesday that so-called future claims could cost the church between $16.7 million and $41.7 million. While emphasizing the difficulty in such estimations, the report said it expects between 89 and 168 priest accusers to come forward in the future.

ILLUSTRATION: Perone - First case due up in September

ILLUSTRATION: Grammond - Case is scheduled for October

ILLUSTRATION: Laughlin - Case is scheduled for January

Ashbel "Tony" Green: 503-221-8202; tonygreen@news.oregonian.com

 
 

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