Local Diocese Admits Settling in Molest Case; $250,000 Payment Cast Doubt on Bishop's Earlier Assurances

By Sandi Dolbee and Susan Gembrowski
San Diego Union-Tribune
July 4, 2002

Less than three weeks after Bishop Robert Brom assured parishioners that no large settlements have been paid out in priest abuse cases since he took over 12 years ago, the Catholic diocese has acknowledged that a man who said he was molested as a boy received $250,000 in December.

The money came from three sources: The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego and an insurance company each contributed $75,000, and the estate of the accused priest, the late Monsignor William Kraft, paid $100,000, according to Monsignor Steven Callahan, the diocese's chancellor.

Callahan released the information in response to a report in The Boston Globe yesterday that suggested the diocese itself paid the $250,000. The story raised questions about Brom's assertions that there have only been small settlements and that the diocese has had to come up with less than $200,000, which it said went for medical and counseling services.

"The $200,000 figure quoted by Bishop Brom for all diocesan expenditures in sexual abuse cases includes the $75,000 for the Kraft case, and remains completely accurate," Callahan said.

Callahan's statement, however, did not address the question of whether the diocese considers $250,000 a large amount of money.

Last month, the diocese turned over information on 23 cases to authorities in San Diego and Imperial counties, but it has not made public all specific settlements. It is not known if there are other payouts such as this one.

Neither Brom nor Bernadeane Carr, the diocese's spokeswoman, would answer questions yesterday.

"We don't have any further comments," Carr said.

When the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last month adopted its historic zero-tolerance policy against priests who abuse minors, it pledged "transparency and openness." Included in the national policy is the promise that each diocese "will deal as openly as possible with members of the community."

Some Catholics wonder if that will happen.

The real problem is secrecy, said Janet Mansfield, San Diego chapter president of Call to Action, a nationwide Catholic reform group.

"It's the Watergate of the Catholic Church," she said.

In the Kraft case, the check for $250,000 was drawn on a diocese bank account, dated Dec. 10, 2001, and signed by Callahan and the diocese's financial officer.

Orange County attorney John Manly, who negotiated the deal on behalf of his client, said he was unaware that the money came from anywhere but the church. He believes Brom misled parishioners in his pastoral letter he released last month after he returned from the Dallas meeting.

In that letter, and at a news conference June 17, Brom said: "There have been no large financial settlements of legal claims regarding any of these cases and the small settlements that have been made were covered by our insurance. In pastoral outreach to victims and their families, the diocese has spent slightly less than a total of $200,000 in the past 12 years."

Manly called yesterday's accounting by the diocese "splitting hairs."

"The check said $250,000," he said. "It's cut on the diocese account. They said there were no large settlements and that's not true."

On the other hand, he praised Brom for treating his client with respect and sensitivity through the complaint process.

"Honest to God, he was wonderful with him," Manly said.

He said his client was sexually abused by Kraft about 35 years ago and still remains very emotionally fragile.

The check was issued three months after Kraft died at the age of 75 from complications of diabetes. Kraft retired in 1991 after a career that was marked with both controversy and achievement.

In 1988, Michael Bang, a 27-year-old convicted thief, told a psychologist Kraft molested him for years beginning when he was 9 while Kraft was pastor of Good Shepherd Roman Catholic Church in Mira Mesa. Kraft denied the allegations and the late Bishop Leo Maher stood by him. Manly would not name his client but said it was not Bang.

Ten years earlier, parishioners at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Point Loma accused Kraft of mishandling about $60,000 in church funds. Again, he denied any wrongdoing.

Ordained in 1951, Kraft became known as a successful fund-raiser and was named the executive development director of the diocese. He was honored for his service by Pope John Paul II.

San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Catherine Stephenson, who is working with the diocese in getting information on abuse cases, would not comment on the settlement or where the money came from.

"I don't know the ins and outs of it," she said. "I will honestly say that I have had very good cooperation with the diocese."

Stephenson crafted the model protocol for reporting cases that was adopted last week by the California District Attorneys Association. The San Diego diocese is complying with the protocol, which calls for turning over the names of victims, priests, witnesses and other basic facts. The diocese has agreed to release information on cases going back to its founding.

Stephenson said the investigation process will take months. She urged victims to report their allegations to law enforcement. "It provides a good check."

Regardless of where the money came from in the $250,000 Kraft settlement, the bigger issue may be the lingering mistrust that surrounds the Catholic Church over the 6-month-old national scandal of abuse and secrecy.

Dioceses should not be trying to finesse the figures between what they actually paid out and what came from other sources, said Dan Mahoney, a spokesman for Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, the chairman of the Catholic Church's newly created national review panel.

"The governor feels that any payment from any diocese should be fully disclosed to the people in that diocese," Mahoney said. "The Catholic lay people have the right to know, whether it's insurance payments or direct payments."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.