Diocese Settles Lawsuit Tied to Abuse Case
By James F. McCarty
Cleveland Plain Dealer
April 15, 2006
The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland will pay a substantial settlement and apologize to a sex-abuse victim and his parents under terms of a tentative agreement reached this week in a defamation lawsuit.
Christopher Kodger, 39, of Homer, Alaska, who joined his parents in the suit filed against the diocese in 2003, was prepared to return to Ohio for a trial April 24 in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
But he said Thurs day that a trial will be unnecessary after dioc esan officials agreed to compensate the Kodg ers with a significant award - believed to be about $500,000 - after Bishop Anthony Pilla writes a letter of apology for a potentially libelous statement.
"They can tell the truth on the witness stand or they can apologize," Kodger said in a telephone interview. "Either way they pay."
An attorney for the diocese did not return a call seeking comment.
Diocesan spokesman Bob Tayek said settlement discussions had been held, but he declined to say if an agreement had been reached.
William Crosby, the Kodgers' attorney, said diocesan lawyers "have worked in a good-faith fashion to reach an appropriate resolution to our claims." But he would not address the specific provisions of the tentative settlement with Donald and Suzan Kodger of Brunswick, and their son.
In a draft of a letter addressed to Suzan Kodger, Pilla said he regretted how the Kodgers were characterized in the diocesan statements, and he accepted "pastoral responsibility" for the pain and suffering caused to the family.
"I have come to understand how deeply the members of your family, and you in particular, have felt injured by these statements," the letter reads. "I am truly and personally sorry for that, and on behalf of myself and all those associated with the diocese, ask your forgive- ness for it."
Christopher Kodger said he was satisfied with the outcome.
"It was amicable and they apologized."
Kodger was 14 in 1981 when he spent a day doing yard work and swimming at the home of the Rev. F. James Mulica, pastor of the Chapel of the Divine Word in Kirtland. Mulica sexually assaulted the teen, who escaped in the priest's Volkswagen Beetle.
Pilla met with the Kodgers, and later agreed to pay them $45,000 and to keep Mulica away from children.
Pilla kept only half of the bargain, however. Within four years, the diocese reassigned Mulica to St. Jude Church in Elyria, and to Holy Redeemer Church in Cleveland - both of which had schools.
Mulica left the priesthood in 1991 and lives in California, where he sells insurance and founded the Chapel of Light, an interactive Internet ministry.
Nearly 20 years passed before the Kodger case re-emerged. In 2002, at the height of the diocese's sex-abuse scandal, church officials challenged the family's version of events that had appeared in stories in The Plain Dealer.
In diocesan statements released to the media, church officials acknowledged that Mulica was twice transferred to parishes with schools, but said the moves were made with the Kodgers' approval.
The Kodgers sued the diocese in 2003, accusing church officials of making false and defamatory statements.
During six hours of sworn videotaped testimony last July, Pilla denied he approved the release of the statements placing responsibility for Mulica's transfers on the Kodgers. The bishop also denied ever seeing the documents before Crosby produced them at the deposition.
Pilla is not a defendant in the lawsuit, although he would have been required to testify if the case had gone to trial, Crosby said.
Pilla, 73, offered a letter of resignation in January. His replacement, Bishop Richard Lennon of Boston, will assume his duties next month.
Christopher Kodger lives with his wife, Myra, in an Alaskan fishing village. He works in a shop where he fixes auto transmissions and office machines.
Kodger accuses Pilla, Mulica and diocesan officials of ruining his life, but thinks the settlement money will be therapeutic.
He plans to buy a sailboat, take a long trip and write a book about his experiences.
To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.