Sex Abuse Suit Might Become Class Action
Case against Orphanage in Jefferson Has 50 Plaintiffs

Associated Press, carried in Lexington Herald-Leader [Louisville KY]
July 24, 2005

LOUISVILLE - Class-action status is being sought in a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse at a Roman Catholic orphanage in Jefferson County over a 50-year period.

Attorney William McMurry said he wants to expand the suit beyond the current 50 plaintiffs because he thinks there are at least several hundred other victims. Judge Denise Clayton will consider the request at a hearing Monday.

A class-action designation would allow victims to make a claim without being publicly identified and would lead to advertising that would notify former orphanage residents who might live across the country and might not know of the litigation or of their rights, McMurry said.

McMurry, with attorney Ann Oldfather, represented 243 plaintiffs who settled with the Archdiocese of Louisville for $25.7 million in 2003 over sexual abuse by parish priests and others.

The suit filed last year against the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and the Archdiocese of Louisville's Catholic Charities alleges sexual abuse and other physical abuse during about 50 years, primarily at three orphanages.

The St. Thomas orphanage near Anchorage, the St. Vincent orphanage in Clifton and the St.Thomas-St.Vincent orphanage were operated by Catholic Charities and staffed by the order of religious sisters. The combined orphanage was created after a 1952 merger and closed in 1983.

The suits allege abuse by several nuns, volunteers at the orphanage and the late Rev. Herman J. Lammers, who was director of Catholic Charities from 1939-76 and lived at St. Thomas.

The Sisters of Charity oppose making the case a class-action lawsuit, spokeswoman Diane Curtis said.

"We are saddened by this latest development because our hope is that a respectful process would take place where each person could be heard and treated as an individual," Curtis said in a statement from the order. "Such an approach would seem more compassionate."

Archdiocese spokeswoman Cecelia Price said it does not comment on pending litigation.

McMurry filed the request to pursue class-action status in the case on July 14. As part of that motion, he also seeks to add two more plaintiffs, which would bring the total to 50.

A case in Boone County against the Diocese of Covington was the first sex-abuse case to win class-action status.

This month, a judge gave initial approval to a settlement in which the diocese agreed to pay $40 million to abuse victims. Money not claimed by victims would revert to the diocese. As part of the settlement, $80 million more could come from insurance payouts, which could make for a total of $120 million.

That would be a record for a Roman Catholic diocese in the United States.


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