Wilmington Diocese Offers $74 Mln Abuse Settlement

By Tom Hals
January 11, 2011

WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, has offered $74 million to settle 150 claims of sexual abuse by priests, an increased offer it said would be the largest settlement per case of its kind.

The diocese, which filed for bankruptcy in 2009 due to mounting sex abuse claims dating as far back as the 1950s, said on its website the average payout was about $750,000, far higher than the average in five comparable settlements.

Payouts under the new offer would likely range from $75,000 to $3 million, depending on the severity of the alleged abuse, according to the diocese's website.

U.S. Roman Catholic archdioceses have collectively paid some $2 billion in settlements to victims since the priest sex scandals first erupted in Boston nearly a decade ago.

The Wilmington settlement offer pales in comparison to the record settlement paid by the Los Angeles archdiocese, for $660 million, or $780,000 per victim, which was achieved outside of bankruptcy.

The Wilmington Diocese, with a Catholic population of about 233,000, increased its offer from around $55 million after a state jury found that St. Elizabeth Parish owed purported victim John Vai $3 million.

Vai had said he was molested as a teenager in the 1960s by Francis DeLuca, a priest who was later defrocked.

Under the latest settlement offer, victims are required to agree to drop all legal action against the diocese and parishes, which are not part of the bankruptcy.

A majority of victims must support the plan. If they vote to reject the offer, the diocese will revert to a version of its previous proposal.

"Lawyers for some survivor-claimants have said that the parishes want to buy their way out of litigation cheaply. But a settlement fund of $74 million ... is hardly cheap," said a letter from Francis Malooly, the bishop of the Wilmington diocese.

An attorney for victims did not immediately return a call for comment.

The settlement was increased by contributions from outside the diocese, including $53 million from a Catholic foundation started 80 years ago by John Raskob, the builder of New York's Empire State Building.

The Wilmington diocese said its offer was higher than the average claims paid by five other diocese in bankruptcy court settlements: Fairbanks, Alaska; Davenport, Iowa; Spokane Washington; Tucson, Arizona and Portland, Oregon.

There have been higher settlements outside of bankruptcy. In addition to the Los Angeles archdiocese settlement, the San Diego diocese settled for about $825,000 per victim, for a total of $198 million, according to the watchdog website

Last week, Milwaukee's Roman Catholic archdiocese said it would file for bankruptcy due to the financial drain of unresolved lawsuits brought by purported victims of sexual abuse by priests.


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