$23.6 Million Settlement Reached in Sexual Abuse Case against Oblates of St. Francis

By Antonio Prado
Middletown Transcript
August 5, 2011

Wilmington, Del. —

Victims of childhood sexual abuse and the Catholic religious order of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales have reached a $23.6 million settlement after seven years of legal proceedings, attorneys said Thursday.

The settlement involves 39 cases in Delaware Superior Court against the Oblate-run Salesianum School in Wilmington, the Delaware-Pennsylvania Province of the Oblates, 220 priests and the worldwide Oblate organization that is composed of another 220 priests throughout the world, attorneys with the Neuberger Law Firm in Wilmington said.

Under terms of the settlement, Oblates will pay $23.587 million to the 154 victims of abuse in the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington bankruptcy and nearly $1.275 million for two survivors who sued the Oblates and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Neuberger attorneys said.

The Diocese of Wilmington had previously agreed to pay victims $77.425 million in its bankruptcy organization. With the settlement, the Diocese of Wilmington has now paid nearly $102.3 million to survivors of abuse.

Terms of the settlement also include:

Release of the names of 12 admitted Oblate sexual predators, which the religious order had refused to do heretofore

Agreement to deliver letters of apology to the 39 survivors

Intense training designed to prevent child abuse to all priests training in the Delaware-Pennsylvania Province

Further policies to protect children and to release previously secret documents regarding child abuse – similar to those adopted by the Diocese of Wilmington

The lawsuits involved accusations of abuse that occurred between 1955 and 1991, according to legal briefs.

After the settlement, the Very Rev. James J. Greenfield, OSFS, provincial of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales released a statement to the Salesianum School community announcing details of the settlement.

“I wanted you to hear from me, as provincial of the Oblates and chairman of the board of Salesianum, that we have resolved all of the Child Victim’s Act lawsuits in an agreement that I recently authorized,” Greenfield said in the statement. “The agreement was reached during mediated settlement conferences over the past several months.

“It is my hope that we may now move forward with the healing and reconciliation that we are committed to bring to anyone harmed by sexual abuse,” he said.

Greenfield also sought to assure parents, alumni and other donors to the school that Salesianum remained committed to providing the finest in Catholic education for students.

“Our commitment to our students and to you is as strong as ever, especially as we conclude the legal challenges of which many of you are aware,” he said.

The concessions by the local Oblates are substantial, but the survivors could only claim “partial victory in their long battle against the Oblates, attorney Thomas S. Neuberger said. Namely, the worldwide Oblates order headquartered in Rome refused to change any of its policies to better protect children.

“So, if your child is around an Oblate in Philadelphia or Wilmington in the future, you might feel a little safer,” he said. “But if you come across an Oblate in Germany, Rome, India or South America, parents beware.”

But the “humbled” Oblates sought to make some amends by sharing the names of the 12 Oblates accused of hurting young people in the last 50 years, Greenfield said.

“While Delaware’s passage of the Child Victims’ Act in 2007 led to … survivors filing lawsuits seeking justice and reconciliation, the Oblates have been dedicated to the healing of the abused and the protection of young people for many years prior to the enactment of the CVA,” he said in court papers.

Eight of the Oblates – not of all whom are priests – are deceased, Greenfield said. The remaining four have been removed from ministry and are living in monitored locations, he added.

But co-counsel Stephen J. Neuberger expressed concern that two of the men have been moved from a Maryland farm to Washington, D.C.

“Two are still on the farm, but we also expect them to be set loose soon,” he said.


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