Diocese of BR Settles Lawsuit

By Adrian Angelette
December 20, 2005

The Diocese of Baton Rouge and several former altar boys who claim they were sexually abused years ago by a priest have settled lawsuits.

Felecia Peavy, the Houston attorney representing men who say former priest Christopher Springer abused them when they were altar boys, said exact terms of the settlements can't be disclosed.

The cases remain under seal in state district court in Baton Rouge and are not open for public review.

Peavy said the diocese agreed to a monetary settlement with four of the altar boys she represents and will also pay for therapy and medical treatment. Negotiations are continuing with two other former altar boys who accuse Springer of abusing them.

"I'm hoping for a settlement before the next hearing date," Peavy said Monday. "It was a long, hard-fought battle. It was contentious. But I think it has been well worth the effort because now the diocese can safely say they put forth the effort to resolve the problem."

Charles Cusimano, an attorney for the diocese, confirmed the settlements were reached. Cusimano said he would like to disclose the terms, but said he can't because the lawsuits were sealed at the request of the men who filed them. He did confirm the diocese is providing help to the plaintiffs who settled.

"It is part of our ongoing policy to offer assistance to anyone who has a claim we find to have substance," Cusimano said.

Lawsuits filed by the former altar boys allege the abuse occurred between 1968 and 1980. The men claim Springer abused them while working as a Redemptorist or diocesan priest at St. Gerard Majella in Baton Rouge, Our Lady of Lord's Parish in Slidell, St. Alphonsus Parish in New Orleans, St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Plaquemine, St. Pius X Church in Baton Rouge, St. Mary's of False River Catholic Church, Pointe Coupee Church and Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Clinton.

Cusimano said all of the claims stem from actions alleged to have occurred at least 25 years ago. He said Springer has not been a priest in Baton Rouge or elsewhere for more than 20 years. Cusimano said fewer than 10 cases of alleged abuse are pending against the diocese. All date back to the 1970s and none involves current priests.

The Very Rev. John Carville, vicar general for the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, said in January that Springer was one of six priests removed from the diocese after church officials learned of allegations of abuse. Springer, who has not been prosecuted for the alleged abuse, couldn't be reached for comment.

One of the altar boys whose case has yet to settle said Monday that his one-night encounter with Springer 30 years ago has caused lasting problems.

Dean West of Nashville said it was difficult to file the lawsuit, but doing so was the only way he could force the diocese to react to complaints about sexual abuse. West said the main reason he sued was to do what he could to stop others from being abused.

West said he still needs to visit a psychiatrist to deal with problems in his life that include failed marriages and an inability to have intimate relationships. He also said that in addition to any monetary settlement, he wants to speak to someone with the church who can put an end to the abuse. West said he twice had meetings scheduled with Bishop Robert Muench of Baton Rouge, but they were canceled.

"I really think the church is removed from the situation until someone comes forward and shows the hurt that has been caused," he said.

Cusimano said the diocese thought it had reached an agreement with West. But West changed his mind after initially agreeing to the terms of the settlement, Cusimano said.


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