Tentative deal reached in Kansas City abuse cases

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A Roman Catholic diocese has tentatively agreed to pay $10 million to settle 47 pending sexual abuse claims against the diocese and its priests.

In a letter sent to priests with the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese late Tuesday night, Bishop Robert W. Finn said the deal is subject to his approval after he consults with two diocese boards.

"These incidents have been painful for the victims and their families, for priests not involved in these incidents who have served faithfully, and for the whole Church," Finn wrote. "Based on advice from legal counsel and on prayerful reflection over this most difficult matter, I believe that this settlement, while costly, is a responsible resolution for these individuals and their families and in the best interest of the Diocese."

Along with the money, the tentative deal calls for the diocese to meet 19 nonmonetary conditions, including publicly announcing and acknowledging the wrongfulness of sexual abuse by its priests.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say it is the nonmonetary conditions that make the proposed settlement so important.

"Our clients are trying very hard to right the unrightable wrong," Rebecca Randles, a Kansas City attorney representing the plaintiffs, said during a news conference Tuesday night. "The civil process is not something that is amenable to righting this kind of wrong. But they're working very hard to try to come to a process where children in the future are protected."

The deal will settle all current sexual abuse lawsuits pending in Jackson County against the diocese and 12 current or former priests for incidents alleged to have occurred between 1951 and 1992.

While the deal has not been finalized, both sides said they are operating under the assumption that it will be. Victims have been in arbitration hearings since Monday to determine how much of the settlement they will receive. Those hearings are expected to continue for about two weeks.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they expect Finn to sign off on the settlement on Thursday.

Among other nonmonetary stipulations, the diocese will continue providing counseling for the sexual abuse victims; be barred from making job recommendations for any priests who have had sexual abuse lawsuits filed against them; and will publicly acknowledge the sexual abuse in the Catholic Key and other media sources.

"Money is such a poor means of exchange for the loss of a soul," Randles said. "This kind of abuse is an absolute soul killer. There is no amount of money that could ever repay what these people have been through. Never. So the noneconomic, or the nonmonetary demands that were made, are of far more value to these individuals than the money they will be receiving through the settlement itself."

Randles said of the $10 million, lawyers will get about $4 million, plus costs she estimated at about $100,000.


Associated Press Writer Margaret Stafford also contributed to this report.

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