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Range of Settlements for Victims Questioned

By Mary Zahn mzahn@journalsentinel.com
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 26, 2006

http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=410860

[See also the other articles in this feature: Shared Secrets Reveal Much Suffering in Silence, by Mary Zahn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (3/26/06); Staring Abuse Straight in the Face, by Mary Zahn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (3/27/06); Editorial: A Window for Accountability, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (3/27/06); and a Gallery of Photographs with notes on this feature.]

How the Archdiocese of Milwaukee determines monetary settlements for deaf victims of a Catholic priest who molested them as boys is being questioned by some victims and others. The amounts have varied from $5,000 to $200,000.

Examples include:

Pat Cave, 57, of Seattle received a $200,000 settlement last year through a mediation program for victims of clergy sexual abuse started by the archdiocese in 2004. Cave said he was molested once by Father Lawrence Murphy in his dormitory bed at St. John's School for the Deaf when he was 14.

Steve Geier, 55, of Madison accepted a $100,000 settlement through the same program in January. Geier said he was molested four times by Murphy beginning at about age 13. He questioned why his settlement was less than Cave's.

Gary Smith, 55, of Texas said he was told last year that because of a $5,000 settlement agreement he signed with the archdiocese in 1994, he could not participate in mediation. Smith said he was molested by Murphy 50 to 70 times beginning at age 13.

Smith said he went to the archdiocese with a friend in 1994 to ask church officials for compensation for his suffering.

"They said if you sign this, you can have $5,000," Smith said. "That was basically it. I signed it."

The agreement prohibited Smith from telling the media about his allegations against Murphy or suing the archdiocese. It was signed by church officials and Murphy.

"It is unequal and it pits the survivors against each other," said Alisa Cohen-Stein, a Chicago-area licensed clinical social worker who has treated several of Murphy's victims. "What a really cruel way to divide and conquer. I don't think they are deliberately doing this, but it has this effect."

Kathleen Hohl, communications director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, said the archdiocese supports victims who share their stories. However, she said, the information regarding how payments are determined is confidential.

The agreements are "accomplished through mediation and negotiation," Hohl said.

Through June, the archdiocese has spent about $10 million on settlements, therapy and other types of assistance for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, she said.

Jim Smith, a Milwaukee attorney who represented Geier and Cave in mediation, said the archdiocese places victims' experiences in one of three monetary categories: $30,000, $40,000 or $50,000. Any extra money, in general, is being offered as cash in a separate category for counseling, he said.

"It comes to a point where the archdiocese will make a take-it-or-leave-it offer," Smith said. "What they pay the victims is arbitrary because we lack legal leverage."

Under state law, Murphy's victims cannot sue the archdiocese. Pending state legislation would allow victims of clergy sexual abuse to sue a religious organization within a one-year window, regardless of when the abuse occurred. A similar bill failed to pass in 2004.

Some victims said they favored a change in the state law and have not filed for mediation in anticipation of its passage. The bipartisan bill is in the Senate judiciary committee.

"It has hurt me and it has been something I have never been able to get out of my mind," said Robert Bolger, 62, who teaches American Sign Language to high school students in Compton, Calif. "If people don't understand, then they can come to court and find out."

 
 

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