$3 million in legal fees paid by Kansas City Catholic diocese in the past fiscal year

By Judy L. Thomas
Kansas City Star
May 10, 2015

Constructed in 1883, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at 11th and Broadway serves as the mother church of the Kansas City diocese.

The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese paid more than $3 million in legal fees on sexual abuse cases in the past fiscal year, raising the total litigation costs to more than $10 million since one of its priests was charged with producing child pornography four years ago.

The figures, published in a diocesan report covering the year ending June 30, 2014, don’t include legal costs incurred after that date associated with a $9.95 million settlement in October involving 32 victims, some of whom alleged abuse going back several decades. The diocese said last week that those numbers weren’t yet available.

Even without those figures, the diocese has paid more than $27 million in settlements and litigation costs related to priest sex abuse cases in the past four years.

A recent report released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops shows that the Kansas City diocese isn’t alone. Since 2004, the Catholic Church nationwide has paid nearly $3 billion in costs related to the sex abuse scandal, according to an annual survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

In fiscal 2014, dioceses and religious orders spent $119 million on settlements to victims, therapy and attorneys’ fees, the survey found.

More than half of those payments — 53 percent — were settlements to victims, with legal fees accounting for an additional 24 percent. The remainder went toward support for offenders and therapy for victims and offenders.

The church also spent nearly $32 million on safe environment training programs, background checks and other protective efforts.

The survey was included in an annual audit of how dioceses are complying with the requirements that U.S. bishops established in their 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The survey found that the number of priest sex abuse cases in the church continues to decrease. More than 80 percent of the 294 credible allegations of abuse reported in the past fiscal year dated back more than 25 years, with most occurring from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Though the report showed positive progress, “we must remain ever vigilant in the protection of children,” Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a news release last month.

“Though our promise to protect and heal made in 2002 remains strong, we must not become complacent with what has been accomplished,” Kurtz said. “It is my hope and prayer that as we continue to fulfill our promise, the Church will help model ways of addressing and bringing to light the darkness and evil of abuse wherever it exists.”

In Kansas City, the diocese spent about $6 million in the past fiscal year on sexual abuse cases, according to the diocesan report. Among the expenses:

▪ Nearly $2.9 million in legal fees and $2.3 million for settlements of “historical abuse claims,” or lawsuits that alleged abuse dating back decades.

▪ More than $200,000 in legal costs and $430,000 for settlements of lawsuits filed against the diocese involving Shawn Ratigan, the former priest convicted in 2012 of producing child pornography. (The diocese said it did not pay any legal costs for Ratigan’s personal defense.)

▪ More than $239,000 for legal proceedings involving a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed against the diocese in 2011 by victims with whom the diocese settled for $10 million in 2008. That lawsuit resulted in a $1.1 million settlement in August.

The diocese also spent about $100,000 on the office of its ombudsman, an independent contractor whose job is to field and investigate reports of sexual abuse, and nearly $200,000 on its Office of Child and Youth Protection.

The expenses are covered by the Diocesan Property and Casualty Insurance Program, which the diocese said is funded from insurance premiums paid by all parishes, schools and other diocesan institutions, along with interest income on property and casualty reserves.

Local Catholic Tom White, a vocal critic of how Bishop Robert Finn handled the Ratigan case, said it’s disheartening to see how much money the sexual abuse scandals have cost the church, especially in attorneys’ fees. Finn resigned last month.

“If there’s money to be paid to the victims, by all means they should get their just deserts for their pain, because it will never go away,” he said. “But the rest of that money could have gone to feed the poor or any of those kinds of things that are in current need.”

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