Class Action Settlement for Priest Abuse

By Jenny Fisher
WCBD [Charleston SC]
January 26, 2007

Victims of priest molestation now have a chance to get thousands of dollars from the Catholic Church. It's all from a class action settlement in Charleston. The settlement began with two priests and four sexual abuse victims. The victim's cases have been settled. As for the priests, one is dead and the other's in prison. Now, church leaders want other victims of priest molestation to come forward to heal---and to accept a monetary settlement.

$12 Million dollars...that's what the Catholic Diocese of Charleston has pooled together for victims who were sexually abused as children by members of the church. Bishop Robert J. Baker said during a press conference Friday, "Abuse of a child, including physical injury, sexual molestation or grave emotional damage will not be tolerated by anyone, especially by church personnel."

The Charleston Diocese and Richter and Haller, attorneys and counselors at law, have reached an agreement in a class action settlement. The church has set aside $5 Million dollars from interest and insurance money. When and if that runs out, $7 Million dollars is available for settlement distribution to two types of claimants.

The first class involves anyone sexually abused by a priest or agent of the Charleston Diocese as a minor. The person must have been born on or before August 30, 1980. Based on the nature of abuse, they can receive anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000.

The second class involves the spouses and parents of those abused. The can receive a pre-determined amount of $20,000.

Church leaders as well as attorneys hope the settlement brings a painful chapter in the victim's lives to a close. Bishop Baker said, "It is my fervent hope that this settlement will allow us as Catholics in South Carolina to bring to closure an ugly period in our history."

Legal representative Peter Shaheed told News 2 the settlement is proactive. He says it ensures the victims remain anonymous, get prompt payment and do not undergo the risks involved in a long, drawn-out litigation where they risk walking away with nothing.

Count on 2's Jenny Fisher talked with officials from SNAP or the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. They say no amount of money can erase the loss of childhood innocence.. They say generally, SNAP remains skeptical of class action settlements because they don't expose what happened to the victims or the cover-ups within the church. However, they hope the settlement causes victims of priest abuse to come forward, for both justice and healing.

Now, a fairness hearing is scheduled for final approvement of the settlement. It's scheduled for March 9th in the Dorchester County Court of Common Pleas. In the meantime, victims are urged to come forward. They can call Attorneys Richter and Haller at (843) 849-6000.


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