Sins & Silence
The Archdiocese Has Paid Nearly $6.7 Million to Settle Abuse Cases since 1950

By Mary Nevans-Pederson
Telegraph Herald [Dubuque IA]
March 9, 2006

[See the main page of the Sins & Silence series for links to all the articles and letters to the editor.]

On Feb. 21, the Archdiocese of Dubuque announced it will pay $5 million to 20 victims of archdiocesan priests' sexual abuse.

It was the largest single settlement the archdiocese has paid. But it is not the only settlement.

Including the recent settlement, since 1950 the archdiocese has paid nearly $6.7 million to settle lawsuits and claims, for legal fees and for counseling and therapy for victims.

Dubuque Archdiocese payments for legal fees, victim counseling and therapy and to settle claims and lawsuits since 1950:
1950-1995 — $716,200
1995-2002 — $402,800
2002-2003 — $37,200
2003-2004 — $104,500
2004-2005 — $431,400
Feb. 21, 2006 — $5 million
Total — $6,692,100

Most of the settlement payments come from reserves in the Dubuque Archdiocesan Protection Program, a self-insurance plan. The 187 parishes of the archdiocese pay into the plan and are protected under it.

Archdiocesan officials said the collective insurance plan has saved parishes thousands of dollars since the era when each parish purchased its own insurance coverage. Officials also say they cannot predict whether insurance premiums will increase because of the settlement.

Many of the earlier settlements were negotiated in secret and included confidentiality agreements—or gag orders. Neither party was allowed to disclose details of the settlement.

"Both sides have to agree to a gag order and usually they are requested by the plaintiffs," said Monsignor James Barta, vicar general for the archdiocese.

Since 2002, when U.S. bishops wrote new policies to govern many aspects of clergy sexual abuse of minors, dioceses cannot initiate gag orders, although plaintiffs may still insist on confidentiality agreements.

A woman who was abused by a Dubuque archdiocesan priest agreed to a gag order in 1993 as part of her settlement. Benita Kirschbaum, now of Bloomington, Minn., said the Rev. Henry Dunkel started molesting her at St. Columbkille Parish in the late 1940s, when she was in ninth grade. The abuse continued into her adult years.

In 2002, Kirschbaum wanted out of the gag order and joined in a class-action lawsuit seeking to nullify such agreements. The suit was dropped in 2004 and Kirschbaum decided to break the gag order.

"I feel better," she said. "Gag orders are very bad. They are the worst form of blackmail."

Kirschbaum said being able to speak freely about her experience has helped her heal.


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