Church to Pay $3 Million in Rape

By William Lobdell and Jean Guccione
Los Angeles Times [California]
Downloaded January 24, 2004

The Roman Catholic Church agreed Friday to pay $3 million to a woman who was repeatedly raped as a young girl by a priest, setting a state record for the amount paid by a diocese to a single victim of clergy sexual abuse since the scandal broke two years ago in Boston.

The settlement is among the first to resolve claims against priests under a state law that allowed victims to sue the church for decades-old childhood sexual abuse. As many as 800 such claims, most in Los Angeles, were filed against the Roman Catholic Church last year while the statute of limitations was temporarily lifted.

Jennifer Chapin, 31, said she was pleased to put behind her the case against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland. It involves accusations of 20-year-old abuse.

"I've run the whole gamut of emotions," said the Oakdale psychiatric nurse. "It's very validating to be believed."

Church officials also said they were satisfied with the settlement.

"This young woman has suffered terribly, and she deserves everything she received," said Sister Barbara Flannery, chancellor of the Oakland diocese.

The priest, Msgr. George Francis, was pastor of St. Bede Parish in Hayward at the time of the abuse. He died in 1998.

It's unclear how the record Oakland payout will affect hundreds of cases now in mediation in the dioceses of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego. In contrast, the Diocese of Oakland, with 42 pending cases, is negotiating each separately.

Victims and their advocates said the amount of the agreement showed the damage caused by priests who molest children.

"And this case is no more horrific than other cases," said Larry Drivon, one of the attorneys representing Chapin.

But lawyers hesitated to say whether the multimillion-dollar settlement would set a standard.

Raymond P. Boucher, the court-appointed liaison counsel for the Southern California cases, said that it is "a pretty good indication of case values.

"We know a few cases in California that have settled for $500,000," Boucher said. "And on the high end, there is this $3-million settlement." He said several other cases have been settled for amounts in-between.

The Chapin settlement for a single victim exceeded that paid by the Diocese of San Bernardino and a religious order last July. They agreed to pay $5.2 million to two brothers who accused a priest of molesting them.

There have been larger settlements against individual priests $26 million in a San Bernardino claim, and $16 million in an earlier Oakland case but no one expects them to be paid.

Before the most recent clergy scandal began two years ago, the largest pretrial settlement of molestation claims against priests was by the Los Angeles and Orange dioceses, which paid $5.2 million to a man. A jury awarded $30 million later reduced to $13 million to two brothers in a 1998 case involving the Diocese of Stockton.

As part of Friday's settlement, the Diocese of Oakland also agreed to pay up to $50,000 for counseling and include the Chapin case in its education program on sexual abuse prevention, advising parishioners, priests, children and diocesan employees.

Attorneys had asked that documents in the priest's file be released to the public. Church officials refused, citing concerns about the privacy of other victims whose names appear in the papers.

As part of her case, Chapin and her attorneys made a 25-minute video in which she detailed the abuse and its effect on her life.

The testimony was intercut with pictures from her childhood. One showed her in a white dress being congratulated by her parents and Francis on her first communion. Another was of her kissing the priest on the lips.

Chapin said she was raped by Francis, her parish priest, over a four-year period, beginning when she was about 6. The abuse included ritualistic assaults in hotel rooms involving ropes and religious objects, she said.

After the rape, she said he would sprinkle holy water on her.

She said the priest warned her never to tell or God would kill someone in her family.

On the video, a former neighbor of Chapin's said she had called the diocese with suspicions that the priest was abusing the girl, but there was no investigation.

Flannery said the priest who was said to have received the call doesn't remember it.

Chapin said she contacted the diocese about the abuse three years ago. "They need to know and take responsibility for what happened," Chapin said. "I hope the diocese will make it a little easier on the next survivors coming through."