Analyzing Settlement for Abuse Victims

By Jennifer Garza
Sacramento Bee
July 2, 2005

[See also Diocese Settles Sex-Abuse Claims for $35 Million, by Jennifer Garza, Robert D. Davila , and Steve Maynard, Sacramento Bee, June 30, 2005.]

This week, the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento agreed to pay $35 million to settle all pending claims by victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Here are a few questions and answers about the settlement, how the diocese plans to pay for it and why many of the priests involved have not faced criminal charges.

Q: How did the two sides settle on that $35 million figure?

A: Jim Sweeney, general counsel for the diocese, says settling on the amount was "a painful process."

"There is no rhyme or reason on how to do it," he said. "Ultimately, it's what you're willing to pay for peace."

Q: How does the amount of $35 million for 33 plaintiffs compare to what other dioceses are paying?

A: It is one of the largest per-plaintiff in terms of group settlements. However, other dioceses have paid more for individual settlements. For instance, in January, the Oakland Diocese agreed to pay $3 million to a woman who said she was repeatedly raped as a child by her priest.

Q: How much of the money will the victims in the Sacramento diocese actually receive?

A: The minimum paid out to each plaintiff will be $400,000, while the most one victim will receive is $4.25 million. The amount was determined by plaintiff's counsel according to the severity and length of the abuse.

Joseph George, attorney for the 33 plaintiffs, said the victims probably will get about 55 percent of the amount awarded. The rest will go to legal fees and costs.

Q: What happened to the priests involved in the lawsuits?

A: Two of the priests, Michael Lynch and Edmund Boyle, are deceased. Three of them, Jorge Moreno, Javier Garcia and Jose Urbina, are in Mexico. Urbina recently fled his hometown parish in Navojoa, Mexico, where he served for about a decade until newspaper reports in March identified the priest's whereabouts.

Three other priests, Vincent Brady, Jerome Henson and James Mennis, are no longer working as priests.

One priest was not named by diocesan officials because he had been cleared by an independent review board. The priest is still in active ministry in the Sacramento diocese.

Blanco is working at an independent traditionalist church in Tacoma, Wash., that does not recognize Vatican authority. He denies the allegations.

Q: Why aren't these priests facing criminal charges?

A: Some of them are, but they've left the country. Garcia is wanted by Yolo County officials for a dozen felony molestation charges but fled in 1995. Urbina was convicted of sexually molesting a minor in 1989 and is wanted by Yuba County law enforcement. But most of the priests are not facing criminal charges because the victims came forward after the statute of limitations had run out.

Q: When did the molestations occur?

A: These crimes happened 30 to 40 years ago, when the victims were children. Most never told their families.

Q: Why didn't the victims say anything?

A: All of them grew up in homes where the families were devoutly Catholic. Many say they feared their parents wouldn't believe them if they told them about the abuse by their family priests. Others say they were too ashamed to say anything.

Many of the victims were Mexican immigrants. Several of the Rev. Mario Blanco's accusers say the priest threatened to have their parents deported if they told anyone.

Q: If these cases happened decades ago, why were they allowed to sue now?

A: Because in 2002, state legislation temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on such civil cases for one year. (The case originally involved 34 plaintiffs, but one has died.)

Q: How will the diocese pay for this?

A: The money will be raised by a combination of insurance, loans and the sale of diocesan property. Last year, the diocese reduced operating expenses by 15 percent, which included laying off some diocesan personnel.

Several of the accused priests were from religious orders. Diocesan officials are in talks with those orders - the Salesians, the Dominicans and the Redemptorists - to have them contribute to the settlement. They do not know how much they will pay. "Those talks are in progress," Sweeney says.

Q: How much is insurance covering?

A: Insurance is covering "significantly less than 50 percent" of the settlement costs, according to diocesan officials. The reason is because church leaders had to determine what insurance coverage was in effect at the time of the alleged molestations.

They have been unable to identify all of the insurance, and one of the insurance carriers has gone bankrupt.

Q: Does the diocese plan to close schools?

A: Local church leaders say there are no plans to close any schools, parishes or social services. They will, however, cut back on diocesan contributions to some ministries such as faith formation classes.

Q: Are there any more cases?

A: No, this agreement settles all sexual-abuse claims against the diocese.

Q: What is the next step for the diocese?

A: Bishop William Weigand will contact the victims, and if they want, meet with them. He would like to offer spiritual counseling. Attorneys had advised him not to meet with the plaintiffs until litigation ended. At a news conference Wednesday, Weigand said not being able to reach out to the victims "broke my heart."

Q: What are the victims going to do now?

A: Francisco "Chico" Chavez, whose case was scheduled to go to trial Thursday, said he plans to return to the University of California, Davis, to finish his undergraduate degree. He hopes to go to law school. Chavez would like to meet with the bishop to talk about his trauma. But he has no plans to return to the Catholic Church. Chavez said he no longer believes in God.

The Bee's Jennifer Garza can be reached at (916) 321-1133 or


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