$1.5m Settlement Reached in Lawsuit
By Romando Dixson
September 9, 2013
ASHEVILLE — The parents of a child sex abuse victim reached a settlement of more than $1.5 million with the Diocese of Charlotte to resolve a lawsuit alleging the Catholic Church’s pattern of hiring and protecting sexual predators allowed a former parish music minister to repeatedly molest their daughter.
The child will be awarded $1.2 million and the parents will receive $340,000 based on the settlement, the diocese’s official newspaper reported. The money will be divided between a direct payment and the purchase of an annuity that will benefit the victim.
The settlement closes the latest chapter surrounding a case that began in 2009 when Asheville police charged Paul Lawrence Berrell, a former music minister at St. Eugene Catholic Church, with taking indecent liberties with a child, then 13.
Berrell was sentenced in 2011 to 28 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to production of child pornography.
The civil lawsuit, originally filed in Buncombe County Superior Court, named the Diocese of Charlotte along with Berrell and the Rev. John Schneider.
The Diocese of Charlotte oversees parishes in Western North Carolina. Attorney Richard Lucey, who represents the diocese, declined Monday to discuss specifics of the settlement.
“We were very pleased that we were able to settle it,” he said.
The family’s attorney, Brad Searson, confirmed Monday that the lawsuit has been dismissed but declined to discuss details at the request of the family.
The lawsuit claimed Berrell’s history of assaulting children at parishes in Georgia, Massachusetts and Tennessee was known to church officials before he was assigned to St. Eugene in March 2007.
In an answer to the lawsuit and motion to dismiss, the diocese denied knowingly employing or protecting sexual abusers and concealing the danger they posed. The diocese also denied that Berrell, who was 29 at the time of his arrest, had a history of improper sexual activity that was known to church officials.
Authorities said Berrell produced child pornography by coercing the teen to engage in sexually explicit conduct. The court found he “engaged in a pattern of sexual abuse against minor children dating back to 2002 while employed as a music teacher.”
Police charged Schneider with deleting hundreds of child porn images from Berrell’s home computer in an attempt to foil the investigation. Schneider pleaded guilty in 2011 to obstruction of justice and received a 45-day suspended sentence.
Schneider resigned as pastor of St. Eugene shortly after he was charged. He lives in the Diocese of Charlotte but isn’t in ministry, the diocese’s newspaper reported last month.
Seven-figure settlements are not unheard of in child sex cases involving Catholic churches.
The Catholic Church in the USA has spent more than $2.5 billion in confronting the clergy sex abuse crisis, USA TODAY reported in March.
More than 6,905 priests have been accused of sex abuse since 1950 and 16,463 victims identified as of 2012, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection and independent studies commissioned by the bishops.
“It was more than we wanted to pay but less than the plaintiffs wanted to get,” Lucey said of the Asheville settlement reached in August. The payments will be covered by insurance, he told the diocese’s newspaper.