Sunday, October 12, 2003

Covington Diocese settles at $5M

Alleged abuse involved priests in '60s and '70s

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - The Covington Diocese paid more than $5 million late Friday to settle 27 claims of sexual abuse by priests who served at churches from Maysville to Lexington in the 1960s and 1970s.

The figure is nearly double what the diocese paid to settle sex-abuse claims made in the last decade - and $1.47 million more than the diocese earned in donations and investments in 2001.

The settlement is believed to leave only one unresolved lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by priests in the Covington Diocese. That suit was made into a class action earlier this month in Boone Circuit Court. Lawyers for the Cincinnati firm Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley believe there are an additional 500 to 1,000 victims who could benefit from any damages paid in connection to that claim.

Diocese spokesman Tim Fitzgerald said Saturday that the diocese's insurer will pay $3.23 million of the settlement while the diocese will pay $1.94 million.

He said no money from parish assessments, the sale of real estate or from the Diocesan Annual Appeal will be used to pay the settlement. But, he added, it was unclear whether the settlement would affect the diocese's ability to offer services to its parishioners in the future.

The agreement comes as the Roman Catholic Church continues to settle similar claims across the country, some of which have threatened to bankrupt various dioceses and archdioceses. In Phoenix, the diocese has paid $2.7 million in 34 years. In Boston, the Archdiocese has settled for $85 million. In Louisville, it's more than $25.7 million.

In Cincinnati, more than 50 people have sued the archdiocese this year, alleging priests abused them as children during the past 40 years.

The majority of the victims who settled with the Covington Diocese are represented by Lexington attorney Angela Ford. They allege priests abused them when the Covington Diocese included 57 central and eastern Kentucky counties. Currently, the diocese spans 14 counties and includes 89,000 parishioners, 47 parishes, three hospitals and one college.

"My clients are satisfied with the settlement," said Ford. "They were aware of the significant legal hurdles we faced in overcoming the statute of limitations defense."

In Kentucky, the statute of limitations expires on civil cases alleging child sex abuse five years after a victim becomes 18. There is no statute of limitations to file criminal charges of child sex abuse.

The settlement came after recently appointed Bishop Roger J. Foys of the Covington Diocese began meeting with victims.

"On my own behalf and on behalf of the Diocese of Covington, 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 written statement.

Linda Welsh of Asheville, N.C., who alleges she was sexually abused by a priest as a child growing up in Lexington, said she was impressed with Foys' willingness to listen.

"This settlement gives me an opportunity to say to the victims of sexual abuse: 'Speak up and speak the truth,' " said Welsh. "My healing began after 35 years when I accepted the fact that I was raped as an 8-year-old.

"This settlement, together with Bishop Foys' willingness to hear my story and offer his sincere apology on behalf of the Catholic Church, inspires me to continue my own healing," Welsh said.

Dan Lucas, 39, of Lawrenceburg, Ky., and Libby Jones, 43, of Lexington, allege the same priest raped them as children in Lexington.

"I think it is important that what happened comes out so victims can better work through it," said Lucas, who has been in counseling for most of his adult life.

Jones said she has a hard time trusting any Catholic priest after allegedly being sexually abused from the age 7 to 14, but that Foys demonstrated to her a sincere attempt at righting a wrong.

"They (bishops) have to recognize the problem and stop covering it up," Jones said.

Stephenie Steitzer contributed to this report. E-mail

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