Sexual Abuse Hits Church Finances

By Peter Gould
BBC News Online
April 11, 2002

Payments to victims of sexual abuse by priests in the United States could reach $1bn.

The estimate is quoted by the leading Catholic magazine America, which says many people are so angry about the scandal that they want to punish the church.

Even the Vatican is now being sued


In addition to multi-million dollar law suits, it is thought that some Roman Catholics may now withhold donations to the church.

And many insurance companies, who used to offer the Church cover for claims of sexual abuse, are said to be no longer prepared to take the risk.

The reason is the size of the payments being made to victims, either in jury awards or out-of-court settlements.

The Archdiocese of Boston alone is facing costs estimated at $100m, and new cases are emerging across the country.

Last week two American men who say they were abused as teenagers began legal action against the Vatican.


The magazine says estimates of the total payments made since 1985 ranged from $350m to $1bn.

Father Thomas Reese, editor of America

"But no-one really knows, because in many cases the court records are sealed," it says in an editorial.

The amounts were often kept secret at the insistence of the insurance companies, who preferred to settle out of court because legal fees could amount to $500,000 per case.

The magazine says that following a large jury award in 1985, practically all insurance companies had excluded cover for sexual abuse from their liability policies.

It warns that if church assets have to be liquidated to settle claims, it could mean less money for scholarships, parish schools, soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless.


The editorial says the payments made to victims were not so much "hush money" as attempts to help them meet the cost of therapy and rebuild their lives.

The Pope has condemned "evil" sex abusers

"Even so, many Catholics have expressed outrage that their donations are being used to pay millions of dollars to victims of abuse for out of court settlements or jury awards," says America.

The magazine says anger over the crimes was not only being directed at the perpetrators, but also at church officials who had failed to take action to protect children.

Many dioceses were now turning over to the authorities the names of priests accused of sexual abuse.

But many people also wanted to punish the church, specifically the bishops who moved priests to new parishes where they had abused again and again.

"Some Catholics are so angry with their bishop that they are calling for a boycott of donations to the diocese," it says.

"Many intend to give to their local parish, but not the bishop."


The magazine also questions to size of awards being made by juries.

"Multi-million dollar awards, like the boycotting of diocesan collections, punish the wrong people," it argues in its editorial.

"Big jury awards make sense as a way to punish profit-making businesses, but they are a very blunt instrument for dealing with non-profit organizations, which have no stockholders.

"The church is not just the bishops, it is the people in the pews. There are no deep pockets with unlimited funds. Churches depend on the small weekly contributions from their congregations.

"Punishing the church means punishing the people of God and those they serve. Justice demands that we find another way."


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