Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Covington Diocese paying $8.3M

Settlements go to 39 victims of sex abuse

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - The Covington Diocese has reached settlements totaling $8.3 million with 39 sex-abuse victims since September, a church attorney announced Tuesday.

In addition to the settlements - five of which were reached since Jan. 1 - the diocese has provided $80,000 to help victims with family and personal needs.

"The diocese is committed to the long and challenging process of restoring trust in the Catholic Church both locally and nationally," said diocese attorney Carrie Huff of Chicago. "We believe that ministering to victims' needs and providing a just resolution of their claims is a critical part of that process."

The average settlement for each claim against the Covington Diocese is $212,820. Individual settlement amounts were not disclosed.

Susan Archibald of The Linkup, a Louisville support group for clergy abuse victims, said the amount is significant and she hopes the settlement figure becomes a model for the nation.

"Anytime you get a settlement over $200,000 per victim, especially when you are talking about averages, it is good," Archibald said. "It shows the Diocese of Covington is taking the abuse allegations seriously."

The average settlement from the Archdiocese of Louisville has been $60,000, she said. Under a court-mandated settlement plan in Louisville, the most seriously abused victims in Louisville are entitled to $175,000.

In Cincinnati, a tribunal has been set up to help distribute $3 million the archdiocese has offered to victims of clergy abuse. What's unknown is how many people will forego civil litigation and seek money from the fund. There have been at least 12 civil suits filed, involving more than 50 victims, against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Four of those were dismissed late last year over concerns about the statute of limitations.

The Covington Diocese settlements occur at the same time a class-action lawsuit against the diocese is pending in Boone Circuit Court. The class action, the first of its kind in the nation, automatically includes all victims in 57 northern and eastern Kentucky counties since 1956 unless individuals decide not to join. The deadline to opt out of the suit is Saturday.

"The manner in which (the class-action) litigation is being prosecuted is wholly negative," Huff said. "Class counsel's repeated public attacks on the diocese and on Bishop Roger Foys' efforts to reach out to victims are hurtful not just to us, but to many victims and their families as well."

Cincinnati attorney Bob Steinberg of the Cincinnati firm of Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley, represents the class-action plaintiffs. He said the Covington settlements can be directly attributed to the accomplishments of the class-action suit.

"Prior to this class action being filed, there were very few settlements made by the diocese, and those that were, were for very small amounts," said Steinberg. "As a result of the class action, the diocese has made a more significant effort to settle with victims."

He said the majority of the settlements in Covington involved an individual in Lexington accused of abusing 23 people. He would not identify that individual but said those victims could not achieve a settlement through litigation in Lexington and got the Covington Diocese to settle only after the class action suit was filed.

"The Covington Diocese is currently making a desperate effort to pay victims to opt out of the class action," Steinberg said.

He said relatively few have opted out of the class action but declined to give an exact number.

Steinberg said a class action is the only way to investigate the magnitude of abuse to children who were in the diocese.

Many claims were settled through attorney Barb Bonar of Covington. One of her clients, Becky Caddell of Kenton County, dropped out as a lead plaintiff in the class action late last year.

"I decided to settle with the diocese directly and to opt out of the class action because I got tired ... of all the stress and the horrible process," said Caddell. "All I wanted was to get my case resolved, and with the help of my attorney, I could approach the diocese directly and resolve my claim."

Huff said the settlements were reached through personal outreach and dialogue with the victims and their spiritual needs.

"Bishop Foys and the diocese are fully committed to this process of listening and being present for victims and their families, as well as to resolution of their claims," Huff said.


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