Secret Files on Abusive Priests Will Be Released
Bankruptcy - Records Will Show What Portland Archdiocese Officials Knew and Did about the Crime

By Ashbel S. Green and Steve Woodward
The Oregonian [Portland]
April 18, 2007

[See also Parishioners Welcome Settlement, by Ashbel S. Green and Aimee Green, The Oregonian (December 20, 2006); Diocese to Release Documents As Part of Abuse Settlement, by Bill Bishop, Register-Guard (April 18, 2007); Archdiocese Releases Secret Documents on Priest Sexual Abuse, The Oregonian (June 6, 2007) with links to documents.]

The Portland Archdiocese has agreed to release secret files on abusive priests as part of its $75 million plan to emerge from bankruptcy protection.

The files, which won't be made public until next month, will paint the most detailed picture to date of what archdiocese officials knew about sexually abusive priests in Oregon during the past 50 years and what they did about it.

Kelly Clark, a lawyer who represents dozens of men and women who have reached financial settlements with the archdiocese, said many of his clients could not be satisfied until the record of clergy sexual abuse in western Oregon was revealed.

Clark said "secret archives of secret crimes and secret shame will be made public for the community to see and understand."

He said that although they had been able to identify documents concerning fewer than a dozen priests in the short time since the settlement, "I am quite confident that the process we have agreed to undertake will result in a virtually comprehensive release of the archives."

John Rickman, member of the Committee of Parishes and Parishioners, agreed that it was important to release the documents. "These stories will be difficult for Catholics to hear, but ones that we must all deal with. And we hope that this openness will begin the healing process and an understanding for all those involved."

The agreement on the documents was announced during a Tuesday afternoon news conference after a judge's final approval of the archdiocese bankruptcy plan.

The plan pays more than $50 million to about 175 people who claim they were sexually abused by Roman Catholic clergy. It also sets aside another $20 million for sex-abuse victims who have not come forward yet.

No school or church assets will be used to pay the settlements. The archdiocese also will reorganize its schools and churches to insulate them in the case of future litigation.

Free to talk

The finalization of the bankruptcy lifted a gag order that has prevented archdiocese officials, priest accusers and their attorneys from talking about the process since last August.

Despite their freedom to speak, most priest accusers did not attend the Tuesday afternoon event. Matt Clemens, a 39-year-old Hillsboro engineer who has accused an archdiocesan priest of sexually abusing him when he was a teenager, said he was pleased that the proceeding was over.

"It was very validating for me," he said.

Clemens was the first priest accuser in western Oregon to have his case heard by a jury. Clemens said the jury, which was strictly advisory, suggested in March that he be awarded $23 million for abuse he claims to have suffered at the hands of the Rev. Donald Durand.

Durand, who is retired, faces more than a dozen accusations of sexual abuse, but maintains his innocence.

After the trial, Clemens said, the archdiocese agreed to settle his case for $1.5 million.

"I'm getting a great sense of closure," he said.

Archbishop John G. Vlazny once again apologized to the victims of clergy abuse. He also said his door remained open to them.

"It is my sincere prayer that our ability to compensate the many victims will assist them in their efforts to find personal healing and peace of heart. I pray for them every day. And I know that the Catholic people of Oregon join me in asking God to bless them."

The settlement ends nearly three years of uncertainty that started when Portland became the first archdiocese in the country to seek bankruptcy protection from sexual abuse lawsuits.

Last summer, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth L. Perris appointed Lane County Circuit Judge Lyle Velure and U.S. District Michael R. Hogan to mediate.

Insurers will pay

Hogan explained Tuesday that the case involved not only the archdiocese and sex abuse victims, but also insurance companies and parishioners.

Hogan said there were 10 insurance companies with multiple policies from 1944 to 1986.

In the end, the insurance companies agreed to pay more than $52 million, and the parties reached a tentative agreement in December.

Hogan said he and Velure kept a gag order in place so that "extracurricular chatter" wouldn't undermine it.

The documents will be released after a May trial involving the Rev. Michael Sprauer, who is accused of sexually abusing nearly 20 boys when he served as chaplain at a juvenile detention facility in Woodburn in the early 1970s.

The archdiocese has settled with the plaintiffs, but the case is going forward against Sprauer and the state, which employed him.

Hogan did not go into detail about the documents, but said they would include the type of information found in a personnel file.

Priest accusers have repeatedly claimed that archdiocese officials ignored complaints about predatory priests or even moved clergy to keep the matter quiet.

Before seeking bankruptcy protection, the archdiocese and its insurers paid more than $53 million to settle with about 140 accusers during the past 50 years. The bankruptcy plan brings the totals to more than $105 million in settlements with about 315 accusers.

Ashbel "Tony" Green: 503-221-8202;


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