Diocese Settles Abuse Lawsuits

By Jimmie E. Gates
The Clarion-Ledger [Jackson MS]
March 17, 2006

The Catholic Diocese of Jackson will pay more than $5.1 million to settle six lawsuits involving 19 individuals who were sexually abused as children by priests or had loved ones who were abused.

Thursday's settlement announcement came after years of litigation and more than a year of mediation. It is the first such settlement of a diocese case in the state.

All the lawsuits involved alleged sexual abuse by priests occurring from the early 1960s to the early 1980s.

The church will pay $731,250 of its own money and the remainder of the $5,162,500 will be paid by church insurers.

"This has been a long, deep-seated, emotional issue," said John Hawkins, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. "It's a great day for these victims."

Hawkins said an important part of the settlement was an apology from the church.

"I sincerely hope that this settlement will bring a sense of peace to all those who have suffered as a result of the acts of a few," Bishop Joseph Latino said in a statement. "On behalf of the entire Church, I apologize from the depths of my heart to all of you for the pain, grief and shame that have been brought about by these actions."

"I pray that we will be able to reconcile and heal the deep, deep hurts of the past and move forward together to a future of hope," he said.

Latino said the church was mortified sexual abuse took place and is determined it won't happen again.

One of the cases settled is the $48 million lawsuit filed on behalf of Kenneth Morrison of Chicago, Thomas Morrison of Jackson and Francis Morrison Jr. of Texas, and their mother, Dorothy Morrison of Madison.

The brothers' lawsuit alleged a then-Jackson priest sexually abused them about 30 years ago, and the church conspired to cover it up.

"The church's apology falls on deaf ears with me; I don't accept the apology," Dorothy Morrison said Thursday. "They really did not care that it (sexual abuse) happened to children; only that they got caught."

The lawsuits exposed what the church allowed to happen, she said.

Kenneth Morrison, 41, said the ordeal took a huge emotional toll on his family.

"It's still hard to talk about," he said. "Living with the trauma will never be over, but it's time to move on."

Kenneth Morrison, the youngest of the brothers, said he hopes the plaintiffs' actions will pave the way for others to come forward.

Nationally, the Catholic church has been engulfed in controversy after allegations that church leaders often didn't remove priests accused of sexual abuse, instead transferring them to other parishes.

Latino said the nonmonetary terms in the settlement reflect the Catholic Diocese's commitment to protect children of the church.

In addition to the money and the apology, the agreement also calls for the diocese to remove any person with a credible allegation of abuse from any position of influence over policy and decision-making in sexual abuse claims.

The diocese also must disclose publicly policy changes that have been implemented to deter abuse, promote reporting of such actions and ensure prompt investigation and action of abuse allegations.

"No amount of money will give these people back the youth that was stolen from them," said Mark Belencia, state coordinator of the Mississippi chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Belencia said SNAPMiss supports abolishment of the statute of limitation laws when crimes are committed against children.

"One of the stark realities that has emerged from this terrible scandal is that most victims wait to come forward 30 to 40 years after they have been molested," Belencia said.


• Kenneth Morrison, et al. v. Catholic Diocese of Jackson, et al., Cause No. 251-02-744CIV

• John Does 2 through 5 v. Catholic Diocese of Jackson, et al., Cause No. 251-02-1819CIV

• John Does 6 through 9 v. Catholic Diocese of Jackson, et al., Cause No. 251-02-1816CIV

• John Does 10 and 11 v. Catholic Diocese of Jackson, et al., Cause No. 251-02-1814CIV

• John Doe 12 and Jane Does 1 and 2 v. Catholic Diocese of Jackson, et al., Cause No. 251-02-1812CIV

• John Does 13 and 14 v. Catholic Diocese of Jackson, et al., Cause No. 2004-0040.














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