Diocese Settles Sex-Abuse Claims for $35 Million
[See also Analyzing Settlement for Abuse Victims, by
Jennifer Garza, Sacramento Bee, July 2, 2005.]
Bishop William Weigand, spiritual leader of the diocese, said he would like to meet with the victims and apologize to them on behalf of the church. Attorneys had advised him not to meet with the plaintiffs until litigation ended.
"This sort of thing should not have happened. It must not happen in the future," the bishop said at a press conference Wednesday. "It is totally contrary to the mission of the church and to the calling of any priest and any other worker in the church."
The settlement came one day before the first civil case was scheduled for trial.
"I can't say I'm happy. I guess you could say I'm relieved about not having to go to court and talk about it all," said Francisco "Chico" Chavez, the plaintiff in the case.
With the agreement, the diocese settles all claims of clergy sexual abuse, making it the first in Northern California to settle all pending claims at once. The diocese made no admission of guilt.
The agreement involved 10 priests. Two of them, Michael Lynch and Edmund Boyle, are deceased. Three of the priests, Jorge Moreno, Javier Garcia and Jose Urbina, are in Mexico. Three other priests, Vincent Brady, Jerome Henson and James Mennis, are no longer in active ministry. Mario Blanco is working as a schismatic priest at an independent church in Tacoma, Wash., and does not recognize Vatican authority.
Diocesan officials decline to name the 10th priest because he had been cleared by an independent diocesan review board, according to Kevin Eckery, spokesman for the diocese. Church officials agreed to settle the case to "get it solved."
"We do not want to sully the name of someone who had been cleared," said Eckery. That priest is the only one in active ministry in the diocese.
Twenty-five of the 33 allegations were against two priests, Garcia and Blanco. Blanco maintained his innocence Wednesday and said his reputation has been damaged by his accusers.
"I know I'm innocent and God knows I'm innocent," Blanco said. "I don't understand why the diocese settled."
Blanco said he forgives his accusers. "And I will pray for their souls so their souls won't go to hell for damaging the reputation of a priest," he said.
Blanco's insistence about his innocence has infuriated plaintiffs. They were unable to file criminal charges because the statute of limitations had run out and instead pursued civil cases. The settlement is the result of a 2002 state law that temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on civil sex-abuse claims.
Under their so-called global agreement, each of the plaintiffs will receive an average of $1.1 million, making it one of the Catholic Church's largest multi-plaintiff settlements, per person, in the nation. The Diocese of Orange in Southern California agreed in December to pay $100 million to 87 victims, an average of $1,150,000 per plaintiff.
In the Sacramento agreement, the minimum paid out to each plaintiff will be $400,000, while the most one victim will receive is $4.25 million. The case originally involved 34 plaintiffs, but one has died.
"We're pleased," said Joseph George, one of the attorneys. "These families have suffered far too much for far too long. They deserve some peace of mind."
The money to pay the settlement will come from a combination of loans, sales of diocesan assets and a 15 percent reduction in diocesan operating expenses.
"It is unlikely a person in the pews will feel the financial effects," said James Sweeney, counsel for the diocese.
The first payment of $15 million is due to the plaintiffs by Aug. 15.
Schools and parishes will not be affected by the settlement agreement, Sweeney said.
Victims' advocates said they were satisfied. "This has been a long, hard struggle and I'm glad there is some sort of conclusion," said Joelle Casteix, spokeswoman for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Reaction to the settlement among the faithful in the Sacramento diocese was mixed. Some parishioners said they knew little about the case, while others expressed satisfaction that the sexual-abuse litigation was over.
"I think anything like this is going to look to some people like it's all just being swept under the rug," said Andy Smith of Antelope, a parishioner at Presentation Catholic Church. "But I believe at some point you just have to move on."
Despite Sweeney's assurance that no parish assets would be touched, some parishioners raised questions about how the diocese would afford the multimillion-dollar payout. Elk Grove resident Melina Turpin, who has two children in Catholic schools, said the diocese already has reduced financial support for some schools.
"Some have been closed recently because they didn't have enough money," Turpin said. "I have concerns about how this (settlement) might affect funding even more."
Blanco's supporters in Tacoma criticized the settlements Wednesday and insisted the priest is innocent.
"Oh, heck, I really can't believe they paid them off," said Milton Fabre, a leader at Blanco's independent, traditionalist parish in Tacoma, who has known Blanco for 20 years. "That's a terrible way of doing it."
The victims, most of them male, were all children when they say they were molested 30 to 40 years ago. Several of the priests floated among churches throughout the diocese, including St. Mary Parish in Vacaville; St. Joseph, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Rose, Holy Spirit, Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Fatima, all in Sacramento; Our Lady of Lourdes in Colusa; Holy Rosary in Woodland; Holy Cross in Arbuckle; St. Joe in Marysville; and St. Isidore in Yuba City.
Sacramento church officials and victims say they are glad the cases facing the diocese have been settled and are now working on the healing process.
"I ask their forgiveness for the grievous wrongs done to them and pray that this settlement today helps bring them peace and closure," said a statement by the bishop.
Francisco Chavez said he accepts Weigand's offer to meet. "I have a lot to say."
* The cases settled by the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento involve 33 plaintiffs and 10 priests
* This closes the book on the diocese's clergy abuse claims, which go back at least 30 years
* The diocese is the first in Northern California to settle all pending claims at once
Top 10 payments nationwide Major multi-plaintiff settlements since the Roman Catholic Church sex scandal came to light in 2002
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