Papers Detail Church Settlements
Salem Abuse Case Brought $600,000 for 15 Victims

By Alan Gustafson
Statesman Journal [Portland]
April 18, 2007

The Archdiocese of Portland agreed to pay settlements totaling $600,000 to 15 men who alleged they were molested by a Salem-area priest three decades ago at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, Salem attorney Daniel Gatti said Tuesday.

The settlements ranged from $7,500 to $100,000, said Gatti, who represents the men.

After a gag order was lifted by two judges, Gatti also spelled out settlements for about a dozen more people he represented in claims against other Catholic priests affiliated with the embattled archdiocese.

"Many of my cases settled for anywhere from hundreds of thousands of dollars to several (settlements) for more than a million and one for as many as two million," he said.

The new details emerged as U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan and Lane County Circuit Judge Lyle Velure lifted a gag order they had issued in connection with a massive $75 million settlement that will allow the Archdiocese of Portland to reorganize from the first bankruptcy in the nation ever filed by a Catholic diocese.

Civil trial nears

The state remains a defendant in a series of civil lawsuits filed by 15 men who claim that the Rev. Michael Sprauer of Salem molested them while they were inmates at a state-run juvenile corrections facility in the 1970s.

The first trial, pitting three accusers against the priest, is scheduled to start May 1 or 2 in Multnomah County Circuit Court in Portland.

Sprauer, a well-known priest at St. Joseph Parish in Salem, has denied that he molested teenage boys while he was a chaplain three decades ago at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn. He is expected to testify at the upcoming trial.

Dan Gatti, a Salem attorney representing Sprauer's accusers, said Tuesday that 15 men received settlements totaling $600,000 from the Portland Archdiocese. That removed the archdiocese as a defendant in the Sprauer suits but not the state.

The Oregon Attorney General's Office is defending the state in the Sprauer cases.

Since August, the gag order had muzzled anyone involved in the bankruptcy, including accusers, attorneys and church officials, from discussing the case.

The bankruptcy reorganization, approved last Friday by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris, allows the archdiocese to pay about 175 victims without tapping into any assets held by its 124 parishes, 42 elementary schools, 10 high schools, two colleges and charitable funds. Insurance companies will pay about $52 million, with the rest of the money coming from archdiocese assets.

The deal was brokered by Hogan and Velure during months of negotiations. Gatti praised the two judges for resolving the complex, two-year-old case.

"Without those two judges, this would never have happened," he said.

Archbishop John Vlazny, representing nearly 400,000 Western Oregon Catholics, personally apologized to the victims of clergy abuse and to Catholics across the state.

"We are a family, and when one suffers, we all suffer," Vlazny said.

Portland attorney Kelly Clark, who represented about 40 claimants in the bankruptcy case, said the wave of settlements spared abuse victims, church leaders, devoted parishioners and others from additional strain and heartache.

"Settling cases saves immense pain and struggle for the survivors, saves continued awful publicity for the archdiocese, and saves much wear-and-tear on the community, including the judicial system," he said.

Personnel files on Catholic priests accused of sex abuse during the past 50 years soon will be opened under terms of an agreement between victims' lawyers and Vlazny. Clark said the historic agreement marked the end of "the era of secrecy."

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

Gatti said some victims are moving forward with their lives.

"You know, money brings partial closure," he said. "The fact that there was a settlement also brings some validity to their claims."

Sadly, some of his clients found no solace, Gatti said, describing suicidal acts by people who couldn't cope with "the darkest of shame and depression and anger."

"I've had two clients commit suicide; three clients who threatened to commit suicide," he said. "To bring them from such anguish into a place where they can sometimes smile has really been a long and painful journey."

Gatti has said his empathy for victims stems, in part, from personal experience. He was sexually abused by a camp counselor when he was 9.

"If I can bring justice and redemption to clients who otherwise wouldn't have received it, I can't feel anything but good about what I have done," he said Tuesday.

Asked what he would say to critics accusing him of being a sex-abuse profiteer, Gatti replied: "Well, I guess after paying other lawyers and paying partners and paying the government, I've certainly been blessed with money that I would not have otherwise had but for the actions of pedophile priests. That's true."

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