Covington Diocese Settles with 27 Sex-Abuse Victims for $5.2 Million

Associated Press
October 13, 2003

Covington, Ky. -- The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington has agreed to pay nearly $5.2 million to 27 sexual abuse victims in two settlements.

The victims had accused at least six priests of abuse in the 1960s and 1970s at parishes in Lexington and northern Kentucky.

The agreements, announced Saturday, were for $4,415,000 to 24 victims and $750,000 to three others.

The total payout is the second largest by a Roman Catholic diocese in the state. The largest was the Archdiocese of Louisville's $25.7 million settlement in June with 243 victims.

The Covington settlements follow meetings between Bishop Roger J. Foys and many of the victims, who included 22 plaintiffs in a Fayette Circuit Court lawsuit and five others who brought out-of-court claims against the diocese.

"I am very pleased that we are able to take this important step, and I pray that it will be the beginning of healing and reconciliation with those who have been deeply hurt as children by priests," Foys said in a statement. "Once again, I offer my profound apology to these and to all victims of sexual abuse by priests, and assure them that we will continue to do all we can to keep our children safe."

Lexington attorney Angela Ford, who represents the 24 victims in the larger settlement, said Foys' decision to meet with victims represented "a turning point" in the case.

"I hope this process serves as a model for other dioceses that are still grappling with how to respond," she said.

Daniel Lucas is one of 18 people in the larger settlement who allege they were abused by the Rev. Leonard Nienaber in Lexington. He said it's a shame the diocese had to wait for the children to grow up for such a reconciliation to take place.

"I'm cautious but optimistic that the Catholic Diocese of Covington has recognized that abuse has occurred and reconciling and healing the abused is far more important than any image they can hope to portray," he said.

Nienaber, who is in his 90s, has been serving a 10-year sentence at a treatment center in Missouri following his conviction on 10 abuse charges in 1993.

The remainder of Ford's plaintiffs accused five other priests. Two of them, the Rev. Joseph Pilger and the Rev. Earl Bierman, have been convicted for sexual abuse, while a third has been permanently removed from ministry as a result of abuse accusations.

Ford said payments were negotiated individually, based on such factors as the severity of the abuse and its impact on the victims. She declined to reveal the range of payments or what percentage she would receive in legal fees.

Diocese spokesman Tim Fitzgerald said that an estimated $3.2 million of the settlements will be covered by insurance and $1.9 million will be paid out of savings.

Fitzgerald said the Covington diocese's payout will not be funded by property sales, annual fund-raising appeals or parish assessments, though it is too soon to say whether the settlements will affect the budget.

Since 1989, the diocese has paid $775,150 in uninsured settlements with abuse victims, Fitzgerald said. The diocese also paid $721,923 in counseling for victims and $217,505 in legal fees, he said. The diocese used interest on investments to make the payments.

In the past decade, the diocese's insurance carrier has paid $1,958,024 in settlements and $709,171 in legal expenses, which were in addition to the diocese payments in abuse cases, Fitzgerald said.

The diocese has received no reports of alleged clergy sexual abuse of minors since 1990, he said.

The recent settlements bring closure to one of two major litigations against the diocese. A Boone County judge granted class-action status Oct. 1 to another lawsuit filed on behalf of victims of sexual misconduct by priests over the past 50 years.

Two of those who joined in the Fayette County lawsuit chose not to participate in the settlement talks, Ford said. Their cases are pending.

The Diocese of Covington spans 14 counties and includes 89,000 parishioners, many of them in the Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati.

In a publication sent to parishioners in August, Foys said there was "reasonable cause to believe" that 30 of the diocese's 372 priests had sexually abused minors in the past 50 years.

The diocese received 158 allegations against those 30 priests, said Foys, who was installed as bishop in July 2002.

Nine of those priests are now dead, four are no longer active priests and 17 were permanently removed from active ministry, Fitzgerald said.


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