Holdout in Abuse Suit Settles with Archdiocese

By Janet I. Tu
Seattle Times [Seattle WA]
Downloaded April 6, 2004

On the eve of trial, the lone holdout among 16 plaintiffs has reached a settlement in the largest sexual-abuse lawsuit to date against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle and one of its priests.

The other 15 men who were part of the same suit against the archdiocese and the Rev. James McGreal settled in September for $7.87 million ? one of the highest average per-plaintiff payouts in the country since the national sexual-abuse scandal broke in 2002.

Listed in court documents as "MW," the 39-year-old Renton construction worker who settled Sunday evening did not wish to disclose the terms of his settlement, other than to say he was happy with it.

His attorney, Michael Pfau, said the amount was higher than the average amount his 15 co-plaintiffs were awarded.

The man, who asked not to be identified, had said he wanted to hold the church accountable.

"I finally got them to take responsibility for their actions," he said yesterday. "That's what's important to me."

MW and at least seven of the other 15 were altar boys abused by McGreal when he was pastor at St. Michael's Church in Olympia from 1966 to 1971 or at St. Catherine's Church in Seattle's Maple Leaf neighborhood from 1971 to 1977.

McGreal, now 80, is living in a supervised church facility in Missouri. He was permanently barred from ministry in 1988 but remains a priest.

MW, who grew up in a staunchly Catholic family, claims McGreal first molested him when he was about 11 and a member of St. Catherine's. Over the next two years, he said, McGreal molested him in the church rectory and sacristy, and also during private tutoring sessions while McGreal would have him read aloud from the Bible.

Seattle Archbishop Alexander Brunett said in a statement that "I offer my apology to the victim in this case and to all those who have experienced abuse by clergy.

"We as a church accept responsibility for the abuse as well as the pain this victim suffered as a result. We know that no words can make up for the pain he endured and continues to endure. We hope and pray that his healing can begin and we ask for his forgiveness."

MW's case was set for trial this week in King County Superior Court, with jury selection scheduled for as early as today. It would have been one of only a handful of civil cases nationwide that have gone to trial since 2002. Most have settled before trial, been thrown out on statutes-of-limitation laws or are proceeding through the legal system.

Leading up to the trial, the archdiocese admitted it was negligent in its supervision of McGreal in MW's case.

Church officials made that admission because they contend defending the church against MW's claims in a trial would have required the court to examine church laws, policies and doctrines ? a violation of the separation of church and state, said Michael Patterson, attorney for the Seattle Archdiocese.

"We made the decision that we were not going to breach our First Amendment rights in order to avail ourselves of First Amendment rights," Patterson said.

Court documents filed last year claim that archdiocese officials began receiving complaints about McGreal in the late 1960s and that McGreal had disclosed to a counselor that he had molested hundreds of victims.

Church officials said they first learned about the complaints between 1969 and 1973, and that when then-Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen found out in 1977, he sent McGreal to treatment.

Then in 1988, church officials publicly announced McGreal had been removed from at least two parishes and a Catholic hospital for pedophilia.

Patterson said he knew of only the 16 men who had filed lawsuits and about another nine men who have hired Pfau but have not yet filed suits.

Church officials and those nine have agreed to try mediation.

"The archbishop has always stated that he stands ready to deal with these cases in a very compassionate and pastoral manner and stands ready to meet with these victims," Patterson said.

"He prefers to do this outside of the legal venue. But we have no choice when we're put into the venue ? which is the choice of the victims ? and we utilize our legal rights just as they are utilizing their legal rights in that venue."

Patterson said MW turned down an offer to meet with the archbishop, but did undergo counseling sessions that the archdiocese agreed to pay for.

Other large settlements since the scandal broke in 2002 include:

? In January, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland agreed to pay $3 million to a woman who said she was repeatedly raped years ago by a priest.

? Last October, the Archdiocese of Chicago agreed to pay $12 million to 19 people who said they were abused by priests.

? Last September, the Boston Archdiocese agreed to pay $85 million to 552 accusers. A year before that, it settled for $10 million with 86 victims of former priest John Geoghan.

? Last June, the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., agreed to pay $25.7 million to 243 plaintiffs.

? Last May, the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., said it would pay $6.5 million to 61 people, for a reported total of $15.5 million to settle 176 cases.


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