Davenport Diocese Reaches $37 Million Settlement with Priest Abuse Victims

Associated Press, carried in Courier
December 4, 2007

DES MOINES — The Diocese of Davenport's $37 million settlement agreement with clergy abuse victims offers plenty in the way of finality.

Comfort, for all parties, is more scarce.

A year of legal wrangling ended when the settlement was reached last week and announced Monday.

For the Diocese of Davenport, the short-term future is fairly clear cut — it is on to bankruptcy court. With a financial reorganization plan in place, the slow struggle to regain its financial footing can begin.

For the victims, the settlement is an important step, but the way forward more muddled and uncertain.

"I would say this is the first step," said Crag Levien, a Davenport lawyer who represented many of the victims in the case. "I don't know whether any of these individuals will ever be able to recover.

"The diocese, it was a business decision for them. Ultimately, there is no wrapping it up for original survivors of this ... but one way to help is a monetary claim."

In all, 156 victims of clergy abuse are expected to receive funds from the settlement. Hammered out over four days of negotiations in Chicago, the agreement guarantees the anonymity of claimants and sets aside money if more victims come forward.

The agreement completes a necessary step for the diocese, which was shoved into bankruptcy after numerous allegations of abuse against former clergy, some dating back nearly 70 years. The diocese is expected to soon file a formal plan for reorganization in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, which will include the settlement agreement.

Martin J. Amos, the bishop of Davenport, said in a statement that the agreement offers "the best opportunity for healing" for victims of clergy abuse. He also said it would allay some uncertainty about the church's financial status and allow the diocese to continue its mission.

Patrick Noaker, a St. Paul, Minn., lawyer who represented many of the victims in the case, said the agreement may offer closure, of sorts, though he cautioned that many larger issues still must be addressed.

Noaker said the settlement doesn't ensure that future perpetrators won't have access to children.

"I want to add a caveat," he said. "We are not there yet. The kids still need to be protected."

Church officials expect payments to victims to begin by July 2008. Funding will come from the sale of church properties and the diocese's insurance companies. Many of the diocese's properties have been sold or will go on the market shortly as a result of the agreement.

The diocese initially filed for bankruptcy in October 2006. Church officials said at the time they could not afford to pay for the settlements or legal help required for a raft of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse.

The decision to file for Chapter 11 came shortly after a jury awarded $1.5 million in damages to victims of abuse in a separate lawsuit. Prior to that, the diocese had paid out more than $10 million in settlements to abuse victims since 2004.

Aside from monetary considerations, the settlement announced Monday dictates a number of other required steps:

— The diocese must provide mental health counseling to any known or future abuse survivors.

— The diocese must publish the names of all known abusers.

— Amos must write personal letters of apology to any victim or family member who want one.

— The diocese's newspaper, the Catholic Messenger, must publish stories of victims who are willing to share their experiences.

The Davenport diocese was the fourth in the country to file a bankruptcy claim under the weight of abuse claims.

The others were Portland, Ore., Spokane, Wash., and Tucson, Ariz. In February, the Diocese of San Diego also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Davenport's diocese has about 105,000 parishioners in 22 counties in southeast Iowa.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.