Settlements Reached with Five Victims

Associated Press State & Local Wire
December 3, 2004

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane has reached settlements totaling $664,500 with five victims of sexual abuse by priests, Bishop William Skylstad announced Friday.

But the diocese still faces numerous lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in claims, and apparently still plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Monday.

Church officials issued a short statement about the settlements late Friday.

There were no confidentiality agreements involved, but the diocese elected not to reveal the names of the claimants.

The diocese said three of the settlements involved people who had filed lawsuits, while two involved people who had not filed lawsuits.

The number of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse - 19 - has not changed, said the Rev. Steven Dublinski, diocese vicar general, because there are other claimants in the lawsuits involved in these settlements.

Three of the settled cases involved abuse by former priest Patrick O'Donnell, one involved the late Rev. Joseph Knecht and one involved the late Rev. Peter O'Grady, Dublinski said.

"All of the settlements except for one, which was an uninsured claim from the late 1930s to the early 40s, were paid by insurance money," the diocese press release said.

Settlement of the uninsured claim involved a money payment and an agreement to pay for counseling for a designated period of time.

Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has remained open to settling claims even after major talks with victims recently collapsed, the diocese said.

After Friday's announcement, the Spokane Diocese still faces lawsuits involving 55 plaintiffs. In all, nine diocesan priests and two Jesuits have been accused of sexual abuse. O'Grady was a Jesuit.

Five lawsuits and more than two dozen sexual abuse claims involved O'Donnell. Lawyers for O'Donnell's victims have said they intend to ask for as much as $57 million in damages.

O'Donnell, 62, served as a priest in Spokane and Seattle until he was removed from ministry in 1986. He has acknowledged he sexually abused boys from the time he was in seminary.

Diocese officials have identified 150 potential claimants, Skylstad said.

The diocese has said the claims far exceed the total worth of the diocese, and that filing for bankruptcy protection would allow a federal bankruptcy judge to determine the amount each victim should receive and which assets would be used to pay claims.

Catholic dioceses in Portland, Ore., and Tucson, Ariz., previously filed for bankruptcy protection.

A bankruptcy filing suspends civil litigation. Lawyers for victims have accused Skylstad of using the threat of bankruptcy to try to force lower settlements.

Skylstad has said the bankruptcy filing will protect the church's mission and ensure that all victims of priestly sexual abuse receive "fair, just and equitable" compensation.


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