Archdiocese Reaches Deal with 15 Sex-Abuse Victims

By Tillie Fong and Sara Burnett
Rocky Mountain News [Denver CO]
January 6, 2007,1299,DRMN_15_5261423,00.html

The Archdiocese of Denver has paid out more than $1.5 million in settlements to 15 victims of sexual abuse by two priests, it was announced Friday.

However, 20 others plan to move forward with their lawsuits.

"Some are pleased to put this behind them," said attorney Adam Horowitz of Miami-based Herman and Mermelstein, which represented the 15 victims who settled.

Archbishop Charles Chaput said Friday that the mediation process he worked to establish seven months ago helped "to begin the healing" between the Archdiocese of Denver and 15 sex-abuse victims. "We think this is a better way to handle things than to litigate them ... ," he said.
Photo by Darin Mcgregor © News

"Others recognize that no amount of compensation can make up for what happened," he added.

Archbishop Charles Chaput said he was pleased with the mediation process that he established seven months ago that led to the settlements.

"We think this is a better way to handle things than to litigate them, and begin the healing," he said Friday.

All of the victims who had suffered abuse as minors were awarded more than $100,000.

The money came from the archdiocese's operating funds, which are derived from contributions and interest from investments, according to Chaput.

Chaput also said three other victims, who did not file lawsuits, had settled with the archdiocese. The amounts that they were awarded were not disclosed Friday, but they were also subject to abuse by the same two priests who were accused by the others.

Last year, 35 lawsuits were filed against the Archdiocese of Denver, alleging sex abuse by priests Harold Robert White and Leonard Abercrombie. Both men are dead, but the incidents occurred 25 to 52 years ago.

Nineteen of the 35 plaintiffs were represented by Jeffrey Herman of Herman & Mermelstein, and 15 others were represented by Jeff Anderson with Roberts, Levin & Patterson, which is based in St. Paul, Minn. The last victim was represented by a separate attorney.

Last May, the archdiocese established an independent three-member panel to mediate the cases.

The panel was led by former chief district judge Dick Dana, who is with the Judicial Arbiter Group, Inc. The other members included Heather Coogan, chief of the Auraria campus police, and John Daghlberg, a certified rehabilitation specialist.

The archdiocese had set aside a "significant" sum of money to settle the lawsuits, although the total was never disclosed.

All 19 victims represented by Herman & Mermelstein went through mediation. Fifteen chose to settle their cases, but four did not, as they wanted the church to release the personnel files for the accused priests.

Only one of Anderson's 15 clients chose to participate in the mediation process but declined the settlement because he wasn't satisfied with the offer, according to Zachary Warzel, one of Anderson's co-counsels.

The rest of the plaintiffs represented by Anderson chose not to utilize the three-member panel.

"It seemed like a (public relations) move to us, and it didn't smack of justice," Warzel said. "It was an attempt by the archdiocese to go over the attorneys' heads."

Warzel said instead of both sides having input on how the mediation process would work, the archdiocese set the rules. For example, his clients took exception to Chaput's original plan not to allow the plaintiffs' attorneys to participate in the process.

However, Herman noted that rule was later modified and not only did the victims have their attorneys participate in the process, but the archdiocese also had a representative to listen in as victims described their abuse and the effect it had.

Chaput said he met personally with 18 of the victims who participated in the mediation process.

"I offered to each of them my sincere apology for their pain and have prayed in hope for their healing," he said.

He also said he had asked for forgiveness from the victims, and some of them granted it.

Lawsuit summary

35 Number of lawsuits filed against Archdiocese of Denver in 2006

15 Number of plaintiffs who settled their cases

$1,585,000 Total settlement to 15 people


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