Archdiocese Settles Abuse Suits
The Church Agrees to Financial Payments, an Apology and Reforms to Bring to a Close 23 of 25 Lawsuits by Former Altar Boys
By Michael Wilson
October 11, 2000
Twenty-three former altar boys settled their sex-abuse lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Portland and Maurice Grammond, a suspended Roman Catholic priest, in return for confidential financial settlements, an apology and the promise of church reforms.
Although the church's official statement Tuesday distances itself from the abuse of a generation ago, the archdiocese invited a new task force to examine its policies on sex-abuse complaints.
The announcement closes the largest case of clergy pedophilia in Oregon and one of the largest such cases in the country.
"This ends a half century of fear and secrecy and silence and shame that have protected Father Grammond," said David Slader, a plaintiffs' lawyer, at a news conference Tuesday in the Multnomah County Courthouse.
Grammond, 80, is in a Gresham home for Alzheimer's patients. He retired for health reasons in 1986 and was quietly stripped of all priestly duties in 1991 after a Seaside resident said Grammond abused him as a boy. That suspension will be memorialized in writing as part of the settlement.
The 25 plaintiffs -- two have not settled their lawsuits -- accused Grammond of molestation while they were boys. The alleged incidents span from 1950, when Grammond was ordained, into the 1970s, at an orphanage and parishes in Portland, and at churches in Oakridge and Seaside.
"The incidents of abuse alleged in this case date from 25 to 50 years ago," the Rev. Dennis O'Donovan, vicar general of the archdiocese, said in a statement at the news conference. "For a number of years, policies and practices have been in place in the archdiocese to guard against similar incidents."
Archbishop John G. Vlazny, head of the archdiocese that spreads over the western half of the state, was absent from the joint announcement Tuesday, attending a conference in Newport, according to his posted weekly schedule. An apology from Vlazny will be read this Sunday at every parish during Mass.
"To any person who has suffered from abuse by any personnel of the Archdiocese of Portland, and to their families, I express my deep regret and ask for pardon and forgiveness," the apology says. It is printed in its entirety in The Oregonian today.
Joseph Elliott, a former Seaside altar boy who filed the first lawsuit against Grammond in December, said the final news conference was something of a letdown.
"I thought it was a bit empty," he said, although he praised the breadth of the reforms the two sides agreed upon.
Until December, the archdiocese had seen relatively few sex-abuse cases involving its priests. Every one of the country's 188 archdioceses has faced a sex-abuse lawsuit, some fighting a dozen or more simultaneously. O'Donovan, in pointing out "our many good and dedicated priests" Tuesday, could have been speaking on behalf of Catholics nationwide weary of the image of a priesthood full of child molesters.
Attorney Jeff Anderson of Minneapolis has sued more than half of those archdioceses. He called the Grammond settlement historic.
"It's a giant leap farther than any place else I've ever been," he said, "any archdiocese anywhere in the U.S. of A."
He called Vlazny's apology "a real effort to reach out to each man and his family to help the healing process."
The settlement also includes:
* A service of healing for any victim or member of their family who wants one.
* Reassurance from the church of the "validity and value" of any sacrament administered by Grammond, such as Holy Communion, confession, marriage and baptism.
* Appointment of a six-member task force, to include church officials and at least two of the plaintiffs and U.S. Magistrate Thomas M. Coffin, to review the archdiocese's polices and procedures on abuse complaints, including education, reporting, prevention and response.
* The task force also will review "personnel files of all active priests who have been the subject of a child abuse complaint" to determine if there's any risk to children today. However, the church says there aren't any such priests.
Vlazny did such a review in 1998, shortly after his arrival in Portland, and found no priest presenting a risk to any child, said Bud Bunce, a spokesman. Vlazny found no pedophilia complaints; his study discovered complaints of, for example, a priest yelling at a child in school.
The archdiocese has about 150 active priests.
The monetary settlements were paid by insurance, through outside carriers and the archdiocese's self-insurance, Bunce said. No church property is expected to be sold to fund the settlements.
The lawsuits were resolved through mediation earlier this summer before U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken and Lane County Circuit Judge Lyle Velure.
"The men have now won for themselves a measure of justice," Slader said. "Through the healing power of justice, they have begun their own healing."
You can reach Michael Wilson at 503-294-7663 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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