Archdiocese to pay $1.9 million to victim of priest's sex abuse

By Cathleen Falsani
Chicago Sun-Times
July 1, 2003

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has agreed to pay a Chicago area man $1.9 million to settle a claim that one of its priests sexually molested him for four years in the 1980s.

The $1.9 million settlement is believed to be the largest payment made to one sex abuse victim by the Chicago archdiocese and is among the largest payments made by the church to a single victim in the nation.

The 31-year-old unidentified man, who had not filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese, sought compensation for abuse he says he suffered at the hands of Vincent McCaffrey, a former Catholic priest who is serving 20 years in federal prison for possessing more than 4,000 images of child pornography.

McCaffrey, 50, is accused of molesting 50 victims between 1976 and 1991 while he was a deacon and priest in the Chicago archdiocese. He last served as associate pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel in McKinley Park from 1989 to 1991, when he was removed from ministry amid allegations of sexual abuse. He has been defrocked.

Dennis Schoen, attorney for the 31-year-old man who received the $1.9 settlement, said his client was sexually molested by McCaffrey on numerous occasions from 1984 to 1988 at a parish in the northwest suburbs. McCaffrey was a friend of the boy's family.

"It's had a profound effect on him and on relationships--relationships with his family, with his church, socially with others," Schoen said of his client.

"Out of respect for the privacy of the victim, we won't discuss any details of the settlement," said Jim Dwyer, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

Dwyer would not say if $1.9 million is the largest settlement for a single victim, or what the average settlement has been past cases. Schoen said James Serritella, an attorney for the archdiocese handling the McCaffrey case, told him it was indeed the largest. Serritella declined to comment.

Five years ago, in perhaps the largest church settlement on record, the Dallas diocese agreed to pay $23.4 million to nine former altar boys who said they had been abused by the same priest.

In a report released earlier this year, the Chicago archdiocese said it had spent $16.8 million since 1993 on sex abuse cases, including $7.9 in settlements.

Last September, lawyers for another 31-year-old man who says he was sexually abused by McCaffrey about 25 times when he was an altar boy at St. Joseph the Worker parish in Wheeling filed a civil lawsuit against the Chicago archdiocese. That lawsuit is still pending.

During McCaffrey's trial on the child pornography charges last December, he admitted to molesting as many as 14 boys at four parishes over two decades. In February, a federal judge sentenced the former priest to 20 years, the longest federal sentence ever given for receipt and possession of child pornography, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

McCaffrey was removed from ministry in the Chicago archdiocese in 1991 under reforms instituted by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

Archdiocesan officials had said they first learned of allegations of sexual abuse by McCaffrey in 1987. But trial testimony revealed that church leaders learned of his alleged abuse as early as 1980, and returned him to ministry anyway.


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