Dubuque Archdiocese Pays $5 Million to Settle 20 Sex Abuse Cases

Sioux City Journal [Waterloo IA]
February 22, 2006

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) -- The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dubuque has agreed to pay $5 million to settle 20 cases of sexual abuse alleged against nine priests over the past five decades, church officials said Tuesday.

The settlement was reached during mediation just weeks before the first of several trials were scheduled to begin in state and federal courts.

The archdiocese also agreed to publish the names of the nine accused priests, give each victim the chance to meet privately with archbishop Jerome Hanus and the opportunity to speak about their ordeal in their home parish.

Victims praised the deal as an end to more than 50 years of silence and careless handling of priests who molested young boys and girls in churches and schools across northeast Iowa.

"I feel very liberated today," said Debbie Gindhart, 57, who now lives in Indianapolis but was molested by a priest growing up in Waterloo.

"I always felt as if the Archbishop protected priests and not the parishioners. I am very adamant that this is a situation in our country of child abuse ... and silence about it just protects these people," Gindhart said at a news conference where the settlement was announced.

In a written apology to the victims, Archbishop Jerome Hanus said the crimes were heinous and that the victims deserve praise for having the courage to come forward.

"Insofar as I can speak in the name of the entire Archdiocese, I express my profound sorrow for what you have endured," Hanus wrote. "What they (priests) did to you was heinous, awful, horrendous and cries to heaven for vengeance."

The bulk of the lump sum payment will be covered by the archdiocese' own self-insurance program, Hanus said. Insurance will pay a fraction of the cost, but because so many of the claims date to the 1950s and 1960s, church officials said the companies that insured the archdiocese in those years are no longer in existence.

In return for the church's concessions, attorneys for the victims have agreed to dismiss 15 lawsuits that were filed in state and federal court. Five other pending claims made against the archdiocese will also be dismissed.

Of the 20 cases, 12 were filed by men and eight by women, attorneys said. All but one of the accused priests are deceased and served in parishes across northeast Iowa, including Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Luxemburg and Harpers Ferry.

The only surviving priest is William Schwartz, who was defrocked last year by the Vatican.

"You had the sense all along that the cases weren't isolated incidents. It was reassuring when other people stepped forward," said Jim Cummins, an NBC News correspondent, who spoke via teleconference.

In his lawsuit, Cummins said he was abused by three priests in 1962, when he was 17 and an altar boy in Cedar Rapids.

It's the second time in the last 15 months that an Iowa diocese has agreed to a multimillion dollar settlement to resolve sex abuse claims against clergy.

In November 2004, the Davenport Diocese paid $9 million to settle 37 separate claims against eastern Iowa priests.

Attorneys for Dubuque victims declined to share details of how the lump sum will be divided, but said each award would be based on the nature and extent of abuse and impact on survivors. The settlement also guarantees victims counseling, a private letter of apology and efforts by the church to reduce future cases of abuse.

Attorneys said efforts to resolve the claims out of court gained momentum last month during a meeting with Hanus and other top church officials.


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