More Clergy Abuse Cases in Talks

By Don Lattin
San Francisco Chronicle [San Francisco CA]
June 14, 2005

Settlement talks and trial preparations continue this week in the aftermath of last week's $21.2 million settlement of 15 child sex-abuse claims against the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Approximately 100 civil lawsuits are still pending against Catholic dioceses and religious orders across Northern California, winnowed down from 180 lawsuits originally filed in 2003 against Catholic bishops and religious orders across Northern California.

Rick Simons, the coordinating counsel for the abuse claims filed against Northern California's dioceses, said seven separate sets of settlement talks continued between attorneys for the church and its insurance companies and lawyers for plaintiffs who say they were sexually abused as minors by Catholic priests. The largest talks concern a possible "global" settlement of suits brought by 55 plaintiffs against the Diocese of Oakland.

The lawsuits stemmed from a state law passed in 2002 that temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on damages claims against organizations that gave known molesters access to additional victims.

So far, Simons said, approximately 35 cases of the original 180 have been settled, 30 have been dismissed, and about 30 have been set for trial between now and spring 2006.

On Friday, the Archdiocese of San Francisco announced it had agreed pay $21.2 million to 11 men and four women who were the victims of sexual abuse by various priests in the 1970s, including the late Rev. Joseph Pritchard, who was responsible for 10 of the claims and served at St. Martin of Tours Church in San Jose.

The most prominent priest involved in last week's settlement was the Rev. Gregory Ingels, one of four experts chosen by the Canon Law Society of America to advise U.S. bishops on how to deal with abusive clerics.

San Francisco lawyer Paul Gaspari, the lead attorney for the Catholic church in Northern California, said both sides were "working hard to resolve these (remaining) cases in whole or in subsets."

The next Bay Area clergy abuse trial date is July 11 in San Francisco Superior Court in one of seven remaining claims involving Pritchard.