Diocese of Little Rock Pays $790,000 to Settle Priest-abuse Claim of 5 Ex-students

By Youssef Rddad
Arkansas Democrat
June 28, 2019

Diocese of Little Rock. - Photo by Gavin Lesnick

The Catholic Diocese of Little Rock confirmed Thursday night that it paid nearly $800,000 to five men who say an Arkansas priest sexually abused them when the men were boys in the early 1970s.

North Little Rock attorney Josh Gillispie filed a legal claim on behalf of the men that said the Rev. John J. McDaniel sexually abused them while the men were students at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Catholic Church in Little Rock.

Dennis Lee, a spokesman for the Diocese of Little Rock, confirmed the diocese agreed to pay $790,000 to settle the case after reaching an agreement with the men through a third-party mediator last month.

The settlement is the first publicly acknowledged payment by the Diocese of Little Rock since the diocese released a list of clergy who worked in Arkansas at some point and had credible or substantiated claims of sexual abuse against them.

It is unknown how many accusations there are or whether the diocese plans to settle other cases.

Accusations against Roman Catholic church leaders across the world and the church's initial reaction to those accusations have led to concern among congregants.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis issued new guidelines for dioceses and archdioceses to address sexual-abuse cases. But those rules stopped short of mandating reporting to law enforcement officials.

"The abuse that Fr. McDaniel visited upon these trusting, innocent boys was unusually horrific, even compared to other priest abuse cases," Gillispie said in a statement announcing the settlement.

The men were between 12 and 15 years old at the time, he said. Gillispie said the abuse happened on campus, and witnesses reported seeing McDaniel take boys to his rectory bedroom.

Attorneys and the church settled their case out of court, and it blocks the men from filing lawsuits against the Diocese of Little Rock, Gillispie said.

The settlement did not include nondisclosure agreements, which allows the men to speak freely about their experiences, Gillispie said. He added that such deals are rare for clergy-abuse settlements.

"The reason we are doing this is because my clients want other victims to know that they are not alone," Gillispie told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "These five guys lived into their 50s and early 60s thinking they were alone, which added on and compounded the suffering over the years."

Lee said the church's insurance at the time of abuse covered $250,000 for the settlement, and a diocesan insurance fund paid for the remainder.

"Now that this settlement has been made public, the diocese is in a position to provide additional details which will inform its Catholic faithful about how their money is being spent," he said in a prepared statement.

The Diocese of Little Rock included McDaniel on its list of clergy "credibly accused" of sexual abuse. Nearly two dozen clergy members were added to the church's list, and 12 had credible accusations lodged against them in Arkansas. The others served in the state but had accusations made outside Arkansas.

McDaniel served at multiple churches across the state and finished his career at the Little Rock church before his death in 1974, according to information from the diocese.

It wasn't immediately known if McDaniel was ever charged with a crime.

Gillispie said he wants to draw attention to Arkansas laws that cap lawsuits and criminal charges from being filed after a certain amount of time passes.

A few states, including New York and California, have passed laws extending the statute of limitations for child sex crimes. Some also included legal paths for victims to file lawsuits at any age for a set amount of time.

Lee said the diocese urges anyone who was sexually abused by church members to contact the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline and victims assistance services within the Diocese of Little Rock.

A Section on 06/28/2019

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