Savannah Diocese Settles with Local Lawyers

By Adam Parker
The Post and Courier
November 2, 2009

In the latest settlement for alleged sexual abuse involving Catholic Church officials, the Diocese of Savannah announced last week that it was paying $4.24 million to resolve all claims and "avoid the expense and burden of a lengthy trial," according to a diocese release.

The award is among the highest paid to a single victim, according to attorney Aaron Edwards of the Mount Pleasant-based Richter Firm, which represented Allan Carl Ranta Jr.

"The amount of this settlement is likely indicative of the amount of indisputable evidence in the perpetrator's file," said Ranta in a prepared statement. "This remains about accountability and the public's right to know."

Ranta and Edwards said the pattern of his case is typical. Church officials drag their feet, then move to settle just before the case goes to trial. The trauma often is revisited during litigation and the stress can wear down the victim.

"These cases often take years and the toll on victims should never have to be endured," Ranta said.

Bishop J. Kevin Boland said in a statement that the Diocese of Savannah strives to protect children from abuse.

"I am sorry for all the pain and suffering experienced by Mr. Ranta and my prayers go out not only to him, but to all victims of child sexual abuse that each may find the healing they seek," Boland said. Ordered by the court to continue negotiations, the parties arrived at a settlement late Tuesday.

Edwards said that healing is difficult when a suit drags on for more than three years and church officials withhold evidence. About 50 motions were filed in the case requesting documents. Each time the church refused to comply with the request, citing privacy issues and First Amendment rights, and each time the court compelled the church to release the material, Edwards said.

Ranta sued the church in 2006 alleging that former priest Wayland Yoder Brown repeatedly molested him about 30 years ago, often taking him across the border into South Carolina, according to court documents.

The suit, filed in Jasper County's Court of Common Pleas, alleged that Diocese of Savannah officials had been informed numerous times by concerned observers about Brown but failed, or refused, to take steps in keeping the priest away from children, then covered up his crimes.

Brown victimized at least eight children between 1968 and 1986, according to a diocese referral to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, obtained by lawyers. He had been sent by the diocese to the St. Luke Institute in Maryland for evaluation and counseling in 1986.

Immediately upon his release, then-Bishop Raymond Lessard appointed Brown associate pastor of St. James the Less Catholic Church in Savannah.

In 2002, Brown was arrested in Maryland on charges of child abuse and perverted practice, records show. Convicted the following year, he served five years of a 10-year sentence on two counts of child molestation and was released on parole in April 2008.Read more about the case

Church tries to bar documents, published 10/08/09

Edwards said the Savannah abuse case is still alive, naming Brown as a defendant. A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 18 to determine next steps, he said.

Ranta said that adversity creates opportunity for change.

"It is only through the determination of victims who stand up and speak out against sexual abuse that we can begin to free ourselves from the perpetrators who once silenced us," he said. "My hope is that this case gives others who have been subjected to sexual abuse the strength to stand up, speak their truth and create change."

Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902 or


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