Church Settles Abuse Claim Involving Former Bandon Priest

By Amy Moss
Bandon Western World
May 26, 2011

A former Bandon resident who alleges sexually inappropriate behavior by a priest at Holy Trinity Catholic Church has been awarded $225,000 in a private settlement from the Portland Archdiocese.

The settlement agreement, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Portland, alleges that the late Father Bill Karath caused the victim “personal physical injuries or physical sickness claimed to have arise from an occurrence(s)” of sexually inappropriate behavior.

Karath served as priest at Holy Trinity for 13 years, from 1989 to 2002.

Attorney Kelly Clark of the Portland firm O’Donnell, Clark & Crew LLP, said the behavior occurred when the victim was a boy and attended the church in Bandon. He would not disclose the year of the alleged behavior, or how many times it might have happened.

The victim, who no longer lives in Bandon, declined to comment. The Bandon Western World does not identify the victims of sexual abuse without their permission.

Though the case was a private settlement, Clark said the documents were filed in District Court because the payment comes from a trust fund set up for abuse victims by the Portland Archdiocese when it declared bankruptcy in 2007. All distributions must be approved by the court. Part of the settlement included an agreed-upon statement from Archbishop John G. Vlazny that appeared in the Holy Trinity bulletin on May 1.

“The Archdiocese has received a report from a member of this parish who claims that he was injured by Father William Karath, former pastor of Holy Trinity Church,” read the statement from Vlazny. “Again, I express my deep regret and sorrow for any person who feels that he or she has been injured by a priest of this Archdiocese.”

Clark said he wasn’t “specifically aware” of any other victims of Karath. While Clark would not elaborate on the claim, he said the language agreed upon by both parties speaks volumes.

“Sexually inappropriate behavior obviously covers a whole multitude of conduct — it’s a very broad category,” Clark said.

Bud Bunce, spokesman for the Portland Archdiocese, acknowledged the settlement and said there have been no other previous claims against Karath. The priest took a leave of absence in late spring of 2002 and died in January 2003 at age 56.

During his seminary years, Karath taught and ministered in Kenya, and he frequently returned there to visit friends, according to church documents. He also taught at Central Catholic High School in Portland and took several classes of students on trips to the Middle East and Europe. He served in the Portland parishes of St. Stephen, St. Therese, All Saints and St. Thomas More. “Because Father Karath died, he wasn’t available for input,” Bunce said. “We often, in these types of cases, enter into a settlement to avoid the expense and delay of litigation.”

Sex abuse litigation against the Portland Archdiocese erupted in 1999. In 2004, Archbishop Vlazny announced the Portland Archdiocese and its insurers had paid $53 million in settlements, a figure at the time that was second only to the amount spent by the Archdiocese of Boston.

That same year, the Archdiocese of Portland sought bankruptcy protection rather than go to trial in a case seeking $125 million in punitive damages, according to a report in The Oregonian.

A tentative $75 million settlement plan was announced in 2006 and was approved by a bankruptcy judge in 2007. The plan pays priest accusers and protects parishes and schools. Also in 2007, the Portland Archdiocese released hundreds of documents naming priests and the claims against them, which are available to the public.

Vlazny released 2,000 “relevant and appropriate” documents concerning accused priests in 2008. Vlazny said then that the archdiocese had put in place comprehensive child protection policies as well as an office of child protection.

Bunce said it is important to remember that the church has made great progress in the past 10 years.

“We have very extensive education and training programs to help create a safe environment,” Bunce said.

Bunce added that all staff and volunteers, even those who don’t work with children, undergo background checks.

“A safe environment is just a very important aspect of church life now,” he said.


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