|Diocese Neglected Letters of Apology
By Beth Miller
The News Journal
October 28, 2009
A New Castle County woman asked U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Tuesday to allow her to reopen her late husband’s child sexual abuse case against the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, despite the diocese’s protected status in bankruptcy, because it has not complied with nonmonetary terms of the settlement.
In the filing, Nancy McClure, whose husband, Doug, 63, received a settlement of more than $1.5 million from the diocese a day before his death in April, says two letters of apology – required under the terms of the settlement – have never been received by his family.
In addition to the financial settlement, the diocese issued a carefully worded news release in April apologizing for “any abuse” McClure suffered.
Though the apology was reported, the required letters from Bishop W. Francis Malooly and Msgr. Thomas Cini, vicar general of the diocese, were never sent, a failure that shows the diocese cannot be trusted to follow through on its promises, said Stephen J. Neuberger, whose firm represented McClure in his suit against the diocese and St. Ann Parish for claims of abuse by the Rev. Edward Carley.
Diocese attorney Anthony G. Flynn said the failure was his. He intended to send the letters and, despite a reminder from Neuberger in July, did not do so.
Scores of legal motions and filings were under way at the time. The diocese faces more than 130 lawsuits related to child sexual abuse by priests.
“I just didn’t get it done – it’s true,” Flynn said. “It fell to the bottom of my pile where, honestly, it remained until today. The letters will go out promptly.”
Judge Christopher Sontchi was to hear arguments on the motion by Nancy McClure on Nov. 12. Attorney Thomas S. Neuberger said he did not know if that hearing would be necessary. The filing seeks more than letters, he said, it seeks compensation for the legal fees required to produce the letters.
“I’m not going to comment on a promise from them on the letters,” he said. “I’ll have to see it to believe it. In due course, we will analyze their response.”
The diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week, the night before a series of child sexual abuse trials was to begin in Delaware Superior Court. The filing put a stay on all pending cases against the diocese.
Malooly has said the decision to file for bankruptcy was painful, but was meant to provide fair compensation to victims of abuse while also protecting essential resources of the diocese for its other ministries and programs throughout Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
In addition to the monetary payment, the McClure settlement required the diocese to produce and deliver “compassionate letters of apology” to McClure and his wife. The letters were required to acknowledge that McClure was a human being and “not a faceless name,” Stephen Neuberger said, to admit the abuse and apologize to him and his wife for years of pain and suffering caused by the abuse.
Neuberger said the diocese “flip-flopped” on its treatment of McClure. Flynn apologized to McClure at one mediation hearing, Neuberger said, but after initial settlement efforts failed the diocese later said McClure was suffering from hallucinations and “lapses in reality.” After the subsequent settlement agreement, he said, the diocese resumed a more apologetic stance.
Flynn said the initial apology was an effort to treat McClure in a more pastoral way. Later evidence raised new questions in the case, he said, so while the diocese ultimately agreed to apologize to McClure and for “any abuse” he might have suffered, it could not say with certainty that the abuse occurred because “based on his own counselor’s notes, we just don’t know.”
For that reason, the settlement agreement specified that the diocese’s apology could not be used as an admission of guilt in other cases.
“To be penalized for apologizing to a victim is not how it works,” Flynn said. “But it points up one of the problems of litigating these sorts of cases. You cannot reach out to a victim in a pastoral way and apologize without the other side saying, ‘Gotcha!’ We did not ever say he was not abused. But based on additional evidence, we found that it was unclear.”
James I. Stang, a Los Angeles-based attorney who appeared on behalf of abuse victims at the first hearing in the bankruptcy case last week, said it is important to know whether the bishop and the monsignor are sincere.
“Bankruptcy is about broken promises,” Stang said. “This is a forum they elected to be in. It’s just part of the process of educating people about what’s important to the diocese and what’s not. Getting an apology out to this woman apparently wasn’t that important.”
Contact Beth Miller at 324-2784 or email@example.com
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