Diocese to Release Documents As Part of Abuse Settlement

By Bill Bishop
The Register-Guard
April 18, 2007

[See also Parishioners Welcome Settlement, by Ashbel S. Green and Aimee Green, The Oregonian (December 20, 2006); Secret Files on Abusive Priests Will Be Released, by Ashbel S. Green and Steve Woodward, The Oregonian (April 18, 2007); Archdiocese Releases Secret Documents on Priest Sexual Abuse, The Oregonian (June 6, 2007) with links to documents.]

Portland - Previously private personnel files of pedophile priests will be made public under a bankruptcy reorganization plan for the Archdiocese of Portland that was approved Tuesday.

The papers, to be released as early as next month, will include documents showing knowledge and cover-up of the priests' activities by Catholic Church leaders.

"There is plenty there to cause frustration and anger," said Portland lawyer Kelly Clark, who represented more than 100 people abused by priests over the years and who obtained confidential copies of church records in the course of preparing for trials.

The cover-ups that Clark learned of happened more than 15 years ago, he said. The documents show no efforts by church leaders in the past decade to move priests to a different parish after they had been accused of abuse - a practice that deepened the Catholic clergy abuse scandal when it surfaced in Boston five years ago, Clark said.

Abuse victim Matt Clemens (right) hugs advocate Bill Crane after the settlement's announcement.
Photo by Kevin Clark

"There will be a number (of documents) that different people will point to and say that is evidence they knew, that is evidence they covered up. There will be plenty to talk about," Clark said.

He applauded church leaders for agreeing to release the documents, and the victims for being steadfast in demanding that the church's secrets be told. He described the document disclosure as "historic."

Church leaders had been opposing the document release, according to court records.

Archbishop John Vlazny, able to speak publicly about the case for the first time since August because of a judicial gag order, offered apologies to the victims, and to Catholic Church members and clergy for the humiliation and loss of church wealth they suffered during the scandal.

He said most of the claims stemmed from abuse in the half-century up until 1986.

Vlazny also sought to assure the public that new church policies are protecting children.

"Once again, I assure you of my commitment to the safety of children," Vlazny said. "We have comprehensive child protection policies and programs in place throughout the archdiocese which I am told are models of the best practice for child sexual abuse prevention."

Vlazny said the document disclosure is part of the "healing process" that must take place. He announced a public "service of reconciliation" to be held at St. Mary's Cathedral in Portland on June 13.

"It is my sincere prayer that our ability to compensate the many victims will assist them in their efforts to achieve personal healing and peace of heart. I pray for them daily," he said.

While the archdiocese did not release a compilation of costs and settlements on Tuesday, Vlazny promised to reveal the details in a special issue of the church's newsletter at the end of the month.

The bankruptcy settlement resolved the final 175 claims among more than 330 sexual abuse claims filed against the archdiocese in recent decades, according to court records. All told, the church will have paid more than $100 million to victims after the bankruptcy plan is executed. About half of that amount comes from insurance companies.

The bankruptcy reorganization and settlement of all but 27 claims were announced in December after five months of mediation by U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan and Lane County Circuit Judge Lyle Velure.

The judges continued mediating after the announcement and settled the last of the remaining open claims at noon on Tuesday, Hogan said. Through the process, the judges negotiated deals among a total of 89 lawyers.

The two judges did the work without compensation other than their regular judicial salaries.

All sides in the case were effusive in their praise for the judges' work, saying it was unimaginable six months ago that a case of such complexity could be negotiated to a complete settlement.

"You cannot overstate what Judge Hogan and Judge Velure have done," said Michael Morey, a claimant's lawyer from Lake Oswego. "This is a day to celebrate the clients. They told the truth. They did succeed in making the world a better place for children, and in making this church a better church."

Matt Clemens, a Hillsboro man who was the first claimant to testify last month in an abuse case against the archdiocese, said he hopes the words of reconciliation and promises of openness prove true.

Clemens, who served on a committee representing the claimants in the bankruptcy case, said the process was emotionally difficult for many claimants. However, he said his own case allowed him three years to get the therapy and legal advice he needed to become emotionally strong enough to testify about how he was abused as a youth by Donald Durand, a priest at his family's church.

After his hearing, the church offered to settle his case for $1.5 million, the exact amount he sought in his lawsuit, he said.

The final piece of the settlement - the document disclosure - also came about from relentless pressure from claimants, he said.

"They're being forced to. It certainly isn't because they want to," Clemens said. "Today, I'm getting a great sense of closure."


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