“Not Free to Absolve the Dominicans”

California Catholic Daily

September 25, 2008

Sacramento diocese wants religious order to pay up in sex-abuse settlement

The Diocese of Sacramento has taken a dispute with the Dominicans over the order’s share of a sexual-abuse settlement to the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

In a statement released on Sept. 15, the Sacramento diocese announced it had asked the tribunal to rule “in an on-going dispute with the leadership of the Western Dominican Province concerning responsibility for the actions of Fr. Jerome Henson, a priest of the Dominican Order, who was accused of sexual abuse while serving at St. Dominic’s Church in Benicia in the early 1980s. Fr. Henson has since left the priesthood.”

The decision to take the case to the Metropolitan Tribunal came “in response to recent remarks from the pulpit at St. Dominic’s Church by Fr. Emmerich Vogt, prior provincial of the Western Dominican Province,” the diocese announced. The statement did not provide details of what Fr. Vogt said that triggered the decision.

In 2005, the Sacramento diocese settled 33 claims against it and all religious orders operating in the diocese for $35 million, including two allegations against Fr. Henson for sexually molesting adolescent boys. Since the settlement, the diocese received partial reimbursement from the Dominicans’ insurance carrier in the Henson case, but the Western Dominican Province continues in its refusal to “to accept any responsibility for the substantial remaining damages,” said the diocesan statement. The diocese maintains that the Dominicans still owe $1.5 million in the Henson case not covered by the order’s insurance company.

“The financial resources of the diocese ultimately come from the generosity and sacrifice of the Catholic people,” said Sacramento Bishop William K. Weigand in the diocesan press release. “As bishop, I have to be a faithful steward of those financial resources. I am just not free to absolve the Dominicans of their full responsibility for the actions of their members. In addition, it’s a matter of fairness.”

After more than three years of discussion between the Dominicans and the Diocese of Sacramento, the parties have been unable to reach an agreement, the diocesan statement said. “Repeated efforts by the diocese to resolve the dispute have been unsuccessful, leading the diocese to seek recourse under Canon Law,” the statement continued. “What is called a libellus under Canon Law was filed with the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Proceedings are pending.”


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