Diocese Has Paid $328,068 on Abuse Claims

By Martha Bellisle
Reno Gazette-Journal
August 19, 2007

Reno (NV) — Over the past two years, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno has paid $328,068 to at least seven local residents who say they were sexually abused by Reno priests, and officials are reviewing three additional claims recently reported to the church.

But several of the victims say that, while church workers, including Chancellor Brother Matthew Cunningham, were kind and compassionate toward them, the diocese and its lawyers treated them harshly through the interview and negotiation process.

"When it came to the issue of money, the lawyers drove down the settlement as far as they possibly could," said Marie "Terry" LaTourrette Moisan, who recently settled her case with the diocese over claims that she was molested in the 1960s by Eugene Braun, the former pastor of St. Therese Church of the Little Flower.

"My feeling was they thought: 'Let's just get rid of this -- let's minimize our exposure financially, legally and publicly.'" said Moisan, 56, who now lives in Oregon. "They could have made it easier by not making it into a business deal."

Another victim, who recently settled over claims that he was molested by the late Harold Vieages at the St. Theresa's Elementary School in Carson City, agreed, said his lawyer, Tom Drendel.

"He feels like his church abandoned him," Drendel said of the man, now 51. "There was such distrust that he will never be able to re-enter his faith."

"The diocese has never admitted liability for what occurred," Drendel added. "That in itself is unsatisfactory. For some victims, just an acknowledgment by the church of what the victims suffered would go a long way in their healing."

In Moisan's case, Cunningham said talks between the diocese and the victim and her lawyers were conducted through a third-party mediator, who sought to reach a "mutually acceptable resolution of the claim."

Beyond that, he said he couldn't comment on the settlement.

"I spoke briefly with the victim from Oregon some months ago," Cunningham said. "I was glad to have the opportunity to meet with her and personally apologize to her on behalf of Bishop Randolph Calvo for what she has suffered."

In the Vieages case, Cunningham has said the diocese responded to the allegations in accordance with the bishop's charter on protecting children: He met with the man, filed a police report and assigned a victim's advocate to work with the man.

Vieages died in 2004, several months before the allegations were made.

Braun, reached Friday at his home in Las Vegas, declined to talk about Moisan's claims.

"I have no comment on anything," he said.

New negotiations

The recently settled cases, which came about after an extensive report in 2005 by the Reno Gazette-Journal about allegations against priests in the Reno diocese, involve abuse that occurred decades ago, allegedly by priests who are no longer in the area or have died, Cunningham said.

From October 2005 to July 31, 2007, the diocese paid $328,068 in settlements and for therapy to an undisclosed number of victims. But lawyers involved in the cases said there were about seven cases.

That new total was significantly higher than the $35,150 the diocese paid to victims from January 2005 to October 2005, and higher than the $50,000 paid in 2004 to a woman who said she was abused by the Rev. David Brusky.

Prior to the recent flurry of settlements, the diocese only reported one case of alleged priest abuse since 1995, when the diocese was created and former Bishop Phillip Straling took over.

That case involved Monsignor Robert Bowling, who was named in 11 lawsuits in Louisville, Ky. Ten of the cases concerned claims while he worked in Kentucky, and one was by a Reno woman who said he behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner with her while she was an adult.

A recent claim of abuse made against the Rev. Honesto Agustin, former pastor of St. Therese Church of the Little Flower, was dropped after a police investigation cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing.

Scandal hits Reno

Northern Nevada seemed immune from the clergy sex-abuse scandal that shook so many other parts of the country after the story first broke in Boston in 2002.

But in 2005, stories of abuse by Reno priests became front-page news as a list of victims decided to come forward.

To date, the abuse claims have involved three former Reno priests: Brusky, accused of molesting several young girls while an associate pastor at Our Lady of the Snows parish; Braun, accused of fondling and molesting teenage girls while at the Little Flower Church; and Vieages, accused of molesting young boys at the St. Theresa's Elementary School in Carson City.

None was criminally charged because the accusations involved molestation that occurred in the 1960s and 70s. But the diocese has been working with the victims to offer some relief, Cunningham and the victims' lawyers said.

Moisan said her memories of the abuse began to spill out recently when her daughter announced that she planned to marry a pastor. She contacted a Reno lawyer, Jonathan Whitehead, and her case began.

"I was 13, in the seventh grade, and Father Braun invited us to a movie," she recalled. "He took us to the drive-in. I was in the front seat. He pulled me in close and told me my mom was in heaven and he wanted to love me."

She said her sister and their friend got out of the car, while Braun "finished off what he was doing." Braun also molested the other girls, she said, and they, too, brought a case to the diocese.

During the negotiation process, Moisan said she was interviewed by the diocese and its lawyers and was shocked by the details they demanded.

"It was like a second victimization," she said. "That's why we settled; we didn't want to be made victims any further."

New safeguards

The horror stories about priests sexually abusing children have dramatically changed the way dioceses across the country operate, Cunningham said.

In Reno, they've implemented a list of safeguards, including background checks and safe-environment training, to make sure the stories are not repeated.

The diocese, along with all others in the country, will undergo an audit in October by a group hired by the National Review Board on Misconduct to ensure that they are in compliance with church rules on protecting children, Cunningham said.

And when sexual abuse claims were made recently against Agustin, Bishop Calvo went to every mass at Little Flower Church and announced the allegations in both English and Spanish to warn parishioners and seek out any other possible victims, he said.

A police investigation cleared the priest, Cunningham said, and he returned to ministry last fall. But Bishop Calvo was the first to let the church members know and to bring the issue out into the open, Cunningham said.


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