|Diocese Will Pay in Sex-Abuse Cases
By Bill Vidonic
September 17, 2007
Pennsylvania — Barbara Ann Katekovich says she still suffers from panic attacks and other emotional distress brought on by sexual abuse at the hands of a priest decades ago.
The Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese on Monday announced that suits filed by Katekovich, 52, of Conway, and 31 others claiming sexual abuse or injury by priests would be settled with payments totaling $1.2 million.
Katekovich said she would have welcomed her day in court, to tell how, at the age of 12, she was molested by a priest at an Ambridge church.
"What he did to me is terrible," Katekovich said. "I couldn't have children all these years. My marriage fell apart because of this. It's just not fair. I'm very angry with this."
The victims' attorney, Alan H. Perer, said Monday the settlement was being announced with mixed feelings because the money does not fairly compensate them for the abuse they suffered.
Pennsylvania's highest courts had dismissed the cases, citing the statute of limitations, which gives victims of sexual abuse who are minors until their 20th birthday to file claims. The cases in Pittsburgh are from the 1950s through the late '80s, and most of the victims are in their 40s.
Several Beaver County residents were among those who sued the church, many alleging abuse by the Rev. John Hoehl while he was a priest and head of Quigley Catholic High School in Economy, from 1973 to 1983. Hoehl resigned from the priesthood in 1988 after Bishop Donald Wuerl banned him from the priesthood.
"In this particular case, the Pittsburgh diocese voluntarily, not because they were ordered to do so by a court, but voluntarily wanted to do something for the victims," Perer said at a news conference announcing the details of the resolution.
In other states, such as California, the legislature granted victims a one-year moratorium to file suit over sexual encounters that were often decades old.
Katekovich said that she had hoped that state legislators would make a similar move, so that there would be court testimony.
"I want to tell my side of the story," Katekovich said, adding that parents of parochial students have wanted to talk to her about keeping their children safe. "They want to know the warning signs."
The Pennsylvania Legislature is not likely to pass a similar law, and the Pittsburgh victims involved in this settlement have agreed not to make any future allegations against the diocese, Perer said. Still, they feel the courts and laws of Pennsylvania did not protect them, he said.
"They are nevertheless grateful and they do appreciate that the diocese voluntarily is going to try to do something for them," Perer said. "The amount of money that is being paid is not commensurate with the damage and the shattered lives and the loss of faith that I would say every one of these people feels."
In high-profile cases across the country, courts have awarded victims hundreds of millions of dollars, including $660 million to abuse victims in Los Angeles. Perer said the amount of money Pittsburgh victims will receive under the settlement is minuscule in comparison.
Former Beaver County resident Paul Dorsch, 44, also had sued the diocese, claiming abuse by Hoehl while a Quigley student. But he didn't file with the large group of defendants, and he said a state court wouldn't recognize his lawsuit because of the statute of limitations.
Now of Greenville, S.C., Dorsch said Monday that though the dollar amount of the settlements was low, "That's far, far better than what Wuerl offered, which was nothing."
An independent arbitrator will meet with the victims and decide how much each will receive, partly based on the type and length of abuse, Perer said. If evenly divided, each victim would receive about $40,000, not including legal fees. Perer would not divulge his fees.
Bishop Paul J. Bradley, diocesan administrator, praised both sides for moving from an adversarial relationship toward "conciliation and agreement."
"This is important for all involved so that true healing can begin," Bradley said in a statement.
The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, a spokesman for the diocese, said the Pittsburgh diocese has been dealing with sex abuse since the late 1980s, long before the church as a whole began combating the issue. Like churches nationwide, Pittsburgh's diocese has a zero-tolerance policy for abusers, he said.
Of the 18 priests accused in the settled lawsuit, Lengwin said nine are dead and the others have not been practicing for several years. At least eight of them are retired and live in diocese facilities where they spend most of their time in prayer, he said.
Pittsburgh has one of the largest Catholic dioceses in the country, with more than 760,000 parishioners who make up nearly 40 percent of the population in a six-county area. In 1990, two priests in the Pittsburgh diocese were convicted of abuse and jailed for their crimes.
Bill Vidonic can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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