Sexual Abuse Scandal
23 victims will receive $1.19 million from diocese
Church officials hoping deals will bring closure

By David Yonke
Toledo Blade
August 21, 2004

The Toledo Catholic Diocese has settled all but one of 19 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of minors by clergy, paying a total of $1.19 million to 23 victims, Bishop Leonard Blair announced yesterday.

Individual settlements ranged from $4,500 to $150,000, according to a source familiar with the cases.

Bishop Blair, in a statement released yesterday, said "final settlement arrangements" are still pending in several cases.

The unresolved issues involve the wording of public acknowledgements that credible allegations of sexual abuse have been made against specific priests, according to Catherine Hoolahan, a Toledo attorney representing 12 people who filed 10 suits.

Bishop Blair was in Mexico yesterday as part of a monthlong visit to study Spanish and Hispanic culture and was unavailable for further comment, said Sally Oberski, director of communications for the diocese.

She said the bishop, who is due back next week, has been corresponding by phone, fax, and e-mail.

"We're at a point where we can move forward now, promote healing, and encourage other victims to come forward," Ms. Oberski said last night.

However, one victim, Jon Schoonmaker, said last night that he told the diocese he had changed his mind and would not sign an agreement, which means at least two lawsuits are still unresolved.

In addition, a suit that was "voluntarily dismissed" for legal technicalities will be filed again shortly, Ms. Hoolahan said.

That lawsuit was filed by a former Toledoan living out of the area who could not travel here for mediation, she said.

Rather than have the lawsuit languish on a court docket, she withdrew the suit temporarily and will file it again this fall.

Ms. Hoolahan said she also notified the diocese of three more clients who claim they were abused by Toledo priests

but have not filed lawsuits, seeking to settle their cases without taking any court action.

Yesterday's announcement marked the second round of agreements this year between victims and the diocese.

In March, attorneys David Zoll, Michelle Kranz, and Pamela Borgess announced they had settled lawsuits filed by 12 clients.

The total in those cases was estimated to be in the "hundreds of thousands" of dollars, one attorney said.

The highest reported settlement involved William Claar, a former Fremont resident now living in Alaska, who told The Blade last month that he received a check for $150,000.

In February, after the release of a national study on clerical sexual abuse, Bishop Blair said the Toledo diocese had spent $1.1 million in legal bills, counseling costs, and out-of-court settlements since 1950 for allegations against 35 priests.

That figure represented $693,515 in legal fees, $232,917 in pastoral care and counseling for victims, and $180,750 in settlements.

Ms. Hoolahan said other diocese have paid far more per settlement. "I felt the diocese could have been more generous in that respect," she said.

Barbara Blaine, a former Toledoan and founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national victims' advocacy group, said last night from Chicago that the settlements are "a positive step," but she believes the dollar amounts are low because of Ohio's statute of limitation laws.

The state statutes require sexual abuse charges to be filed within six years of the alleged crime, "but the law does not recognize that child victims cannot come forward until well into adulthood," Ms. Blaine said.

Ms. Hoolahan said her clients opted to settle out of court rather than go to trial because of the trauma of "rehashing their childhood horrors" in a courtroom.

"They were, for the most part, glad the diocese was acknowledging the credibility of the allegations because there are a lot of people who would say these things never happened, and in truth, they did," Ms. Hoolahan said.

"A lot of the victims have experienced significant estrangement from friends, family, and community members who thought they were flat-out lying. So it's good to have that vindication."

One victim who requested anonymity said last night that he agreed to the settlement "in order to have some finality to all of it."

But he called the negotiations "unnerving."

"My feeling is that they have no consideration for anybody; they really don't care about anybody," he said.

"Their whole game is to get out with as little damage and as cheap as they can."

Teresa Bombrys, whose April, 2002, lawsuit was the first to be filed against the Toledo diocese after the national church scandal erupted in Boston, settled her case against the diocese but is separately pursuing a lawsuit against the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, the Catholic religious order to which her alleged abuser, Chet Warren, belonged, Ms. Hoolahan said.

A breakdown of Bishop Blair's $1.19 million settlement figure was unavailable last night. His statement did not specify whether the amount included fees paid to diocesan attorneys or money spent on victims' counseling.

Ms. Oberski said she did not have further details, and the Rev. Michael Billian, episcopal vicar of the diocese, was unavailable for comment.

In yesterday's statement, Bishop Blair said the settlement money is being paid out of the diocese's insurance fund "and not from collections, diocesan assessments, or any capital or other campaigns."

The bishop has acknowledged previously that costs of the fund are covered, in part, by donations.

"Financial costs are significant, but they pale in comparison to the human costs of this scandal," Bishop Blair said, urging people to pray for the victims.

Ms. Hoolahan said the diocese had been unresponsive to her efforts to discuss out-of-court settlements until Bishop Blair was installed in December as the seventh bishop of Toledo.

Bishop Blair succeeded Bishop James Hoffman, who died of cancer in February, 2003.

There are about 307,000 Catholics in the Toledo diocese, which spans 19 counties in northwest Ohio.

Contact David Yonke or 419-724-6154.


* All but one of 19 lawsuits against the Toledo diocese have been settled, Bishop Leonard Blair announced yesterday.

* The cost of the settlements is $1,190,365.

* Individual settlements in Toledo reportedly range from $4,500 to $150,000.

* Final settlement arrangements are still pending over wording of announcements that a priest is facing credible allegations of abuse.

* Settlement payments come from the diocese's insurance fund.


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