$121.5M settlement in New Mexico clergy sex abuse scandal

One of the oldest Catholic dioceses in the United States has announced a settlement agreement to resolve a bankruptcy case in New Mexico that resulted from a clergy sex abuse scandal

Archbishop John C. Wester, head of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M.

By The Associated Press

One of the oldest Catholic dioceses in the United States announced a settlement agreement Tuesday to resolve a bankruptcy case in New Mexico that resulted from a clergy sex abuse scandal.

The tentative deal totals $121.5 million and would involve about 375 claimants.

The proposed settlement comes as the Catholic Church continues to wrestles with a sex abuse and cover-up scandal that has spanned the globe. Some of the allegations in New Mexico date back decades.

The chairman of a creditors committee that negotiated the agreement on behalf of the surviving victims and others said it would hold the Archdiocese of Santa Fe accountable for the abuse and result in one of the largest diocese contributions to a bankruptcy settlement in U.S. history.

It also includes a non-monetary agreement with the Archdiocese to create a public archive of documents regarding the history of the sexual abuse claims, committee chairman Charles Paez said.

“The tenacity and courage of New Mexico survivors empowered us to reach a recommended settlement that addresses the needs of the survivors on a timely basis,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe filed the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case seeking protection from creditors in 2018.

The settlement still must be approved by the abuse victims. It includes funds from sales or property and other assets, contributions from parishes and insurance proceeds. It does not include settlement of any claims against any religious orders, lawyers for both sides said.

“The church takes very seriously its responsibility to see the survivors of sexual abuse are justly compensated for the suffering they have endured,” John C. Wester, archbishop of Santa Fe, said in a statement Tuesday.

“It is our hope that this settlement is the next step in the healing of those who have been harmed,” he said.

In New Mexico, some 74 priests have been deemed “credibly accused” of sexually assaulting children while assigned to parishes and schools by the Archdiocese, which covers central and northern New Mexico.

Established in the 1850s after the Mexican-American War, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe filed for reorganization in late 2018 to deal with a surge of claims. An estimated $52 million has been paid in out-of-court settlements to victims in prior years.

“No amount of money can undo the pain and trauma that our clients and their families have suffered,” Dan Fasy, a lawyer who represented some of the victims, said Tuesday. “But we hope this settlement can bring some form of closure and healing to the abuse survivors we were privileged to represent.”

 

Catholic bishops ask US Supreme Court to review California’s sex abuse law

FILE UNDER: Insulated, monolithic, callous, tone deaf church power structure

by Emily Hoeven

Could California find itself in another conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court?

Nine California Catholic dioceses and archdioceses have asked the nation’s highest court to review their case against a 2019 law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, which created a three-year window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file legal claims against alleged perpetrators at school, church or elsewhere, regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred. The law also allowed defendants to be sued for a new offense: “cover up” activity.

In the April 15 petition, which was first reported last week by the Catholic News Agency, lawyers for the Catholic bishops assert the law is unconstitutional because California already gave victims a chance to sue in 2002 — when it opened a one-year portal for sex abuse survivors to file claims with no time limit attached — and because it retroactively adds new liabilities.

  • The lawyers wrote: “Review is critical now, before the Catholic Church in the largest State in the union is forced to litigate hundreds or thousands of cases seeking potentially billions of dollars in retroactive punitive damages under an unconstitutional double-revival regime.”
  • They added that their clients have already paid more than $1.2 billion to resolve claims filed during the original one-year window, and “to finance these settlements, they expended significant resources, sold vast swaths of Church property, and in some cases exhausted or relinquished insurance coverage for past and future abuse claims.”
  • The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests slammed the bishops’ petition: “The 2002 window lasted one year, barely enough time for victims to find their courage or their voices. Many only heard about the window or found their courage too late. This new three-year window is allowing survivors in a huge state the time to speak out, get help, and come forward. We believe it is that bravery that is scaring California’s Catholic bishops.”

Newsom’s office declined to comment: “We have nothing to add at this time,” Daniel Lopez, Newsom’s deputy communications director, told me in an email.

But the petition, which came came less than a month before Politico published a draft U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion showing justices are poised to overturn the federal constitutional right to an abortion, could spark the latest standoff between California and the high court.

In other reproductive justice news: Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Monday that Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes dropped criminal charges against Adora Perez, whom he had previously charged with manslaughter after she delivered a stillborn baby while high on methamphetamine. “California law is clear: We do not criminalize people for the loss of a pregnancy,” Bonta said.

Complete Article HERE!

Justice is coming, slowly, in clergy sex abuse cases

Pope Francis waves from a window during the Regina Caeli prayer in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on May 8.

The road toward justice for the victims of clergy sex abuse has been long, tortuous and littered with legal minefields. But increasingly in the past few years, it has led to milestones involving accountability for the Catholic Church, and restitution for individuals preyed upon as children. That it has taken two decades in many cases is maddening, but breakthroughs even at this late date are critically important.

In April, a Catholic diocese in the Philadelphia suburbs of southern New Jersey agreed to pay nearly $88 million to settle claims by several hundred people, many of them now elderly, who say they were abused as children. For many of the 300 or so plaintiffs in the Diocese of Camden, it will mean payouts in the range of $300,000, with the possibility of additional amounts stemming from separate lawsuits against insurance companies, parishes and schools.

The Camden settlement was among the biggest in the nation, larger even than one in Boston, where the first revelations surfaced 20 years ago of systematic church involvement in covering up clergy sex abuse. It is also partly the legacy of a blockbuster 2018 grand jury report in Pennsylvania that documented allegations against more than 300 priests accused of abusing more than 1,000 children over decades.

The effect of that report was to overcome powerful interests, including the Catholic Church, private schools and insurance companies, that had lobbied successfully in state legislatures to thwart restitution and accountability by impeding sex abuse cases against minors stretching back for decades. In particular, they blocked the establishment of so-called look-back windows that would enable lawsuits to be filed for a finite period well after statutes of limitation had expired — a key reform given that many victims of childhood abuse take years to come to grips with the traumas they have suffered. That dam of obstruction was broken after the Pennsylvania report, including by legislation enacted in New York, New Jersey and more than a dozen other states.

Relaxed statutes of limitations have meant scores of bankruptcy filings by dioceses as well as a tsunami of lawsuits by victims. The downside is upheaval in the Catholic Church, an institution that remains a touchstone for millions of Americans. The upside is, if not a sense of closure, at least an acknowledgment of the damage done, and trauma inflicted, across U.S. communities. Prayers for the victims were inadequate; they deserved, and in many cases have now received, legal redress of their pain and grievances.

This story is not over, nor should it be. Last year, Pope Francis ordered changes in the church’s own penal code to allow clerics who leverage power imbalances to abuse not only children but also adults to be expelled from the priesthood. However, the Vatican has continued to resist uniform reporting of child abuse to civil authorities, which it says could put clergy at risk in some countries. In both the United States and overseas, major new reports have continued to document the scale and scope of abuse over decades. That important work must continue.

Complete Article HERE!

NJ diocese agrees to $87.5M deal to settle sex abuse suits

By MIKE CATALINI

A New Jersey Catholic diocese has agreed to pay $87.5 million to settle claims involving clergy sex abuse with some 300 alleged victims in one of the largest cash settlements involving the Catholic church in the United States.

The agreement between the Diocese of Camden, which encompasses six counties in southern New Jersey on the outskirts of Philadelphia, and plaintiffs was filed with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Camden on Tuesday.

The settlement must still go before a U.S. bankruptcy judge. If approved, the settlement would exceed the nearly $85 million settlement in 2003 in the clergy abuse scandal in Boston, although it’s less than other settlements in California and Oregon.

“I want to express my sincere apology to all those who have been affected by sexual abuse in our Diocese,” Bishop Dennis Sullivan said in a statement. “My prayers go out to all survivors of abuse and I pledge my continuing commitment to ensure that this terrible chapter in the history of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey never happens again.”

Details about what allegedly happened to the roughly 300 victims were not included in the proposed settlement, according to an attorney for some 70 of the victims.

“This settlement with the Bishop of Camden is a powerful advance in accountability,” said Jeff Anderson, an attorney representing 74 of the roughly 300 survivors. “The credit goes to the survivors for standing up for themselves and the truth.”

The alleged sexual abuse occurred from the 1950s into the 1990s, Anderson said, but primarily unfolded in the 1960s and 1970s.

The diocese said the deal calls for setting up a trust, which will be funded over four years by the diocese and “related Catholic entities” to compensate survivors of sexual abuse. Part of the deal also requires maintaining or “enhancing” protocols to protect children.

Abuse survivors who filed a claim in the bankruptcy could get $290,000, according to victims’ attorneys Jay Mascolo and Jason Amala.

The agreement comes more than two years after New Jersey expanded the window of its civil statute of limitations to allow for victims of sexual abuse by priests to seek legal compensation. The legislation lets child victims sue up until they turn 55 or within seven years of their first realization that the abuse caused them harm. The previous statute of limitations was age 20 or two years after first realizing the abuse caused harm.

The diocese, like others across the country, had filed for bankruptcy amid a torrent of lawsuits — up to 55, according to court records — stemming from the relaxed statute of limitation.

In 2019, New Jersey’s five Catholic dioceses listed more than 180 priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors over a span of several decades, joining more than two dozen other states that have named suspected abusers in the wake of a landmark grand jury report in Pennsylvania in 2018.

Many priests on the lists were deceased, and others were removed from ministry.

Complete Article HERE!

Cologne Catholic Church funds paid for priest’s gambling debts

The revelation that a priest’s debts were repaid from a fund to compensate sex abuse victims has prompted outrage in Cologne’s Catholic community.

Cologne’s Archbishop Woelki has previously faced mounting criticism over his handling of reports of sexual abuse

Catholics in the archdiocese of Cologne on Saturday expressed shock that the church had paid more than €1 million to clear the private debts of a priest.

The news provoked particular outrage as it emerged that the money came from a compensation fund for the victims of sexual abuse, who have so far received only a small fraction of the amount used for the priest’s debt.

What are the revelations?

As far as has become known so far, the diocese initially paid almost €500,000 ($540,000) for the priest to clear his gambling debts.

Since the money was apparently not taxed correctly, a total of €650,000 in income tax, including interest, had to be paid in arrears. The money was said to have been paid from a social fund of the diocese, from which compensation for victims of sexual abuse is also paid.

What’s the reaction?

Johassen Norpoth, spokesman for the council to the German Bishops’ Conference that assists abuse victims, said the archdiocese had been considerably less generous to those who suffered abuse.

Norpoth told Saturday’s Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper that, after years of struggle, 60% of the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and other church employees, had received less than €20,000.

“Victims of sexual abuse, some of them without a secure income like that of a priest, have been fobbed off with an amount less than 2% of what the church is paying out for a priest who has got into financial difficulties,” Norpoth said.

Maria Mesrian, spokeswoman for the Catholic reform initiative Maria 2.0, said the way the money was paid back had been irresponsible.

She said victims of abuse had been offered “ridiculous sums, while millions were being wasted on an unnecessary religious college or the private gambling debts of a priest,” referring to a previous dispute over the funding of a Cologne religious college.

Cologne’s Archbishop Woelki

Church vows no repeat

The archdiocese said the events had taken place in the final years of former archbishop Joachim Meisner, and had been taken over by his successor Rainer Maria Woelki after he took office in 2014.

The archdiocese said such a case could no longer occur in the same way “because we have learned from the case and the contact between the human resources department and the clergy is more intensive and better.”

Woelki has faced mounting criticism over his handling of reports of sexual abuse in Cologne — Germany’s largest Catholic archdiocese. The cardinal offered to resign as archbishop, but Pope Francis has yet to make a decision.

Woelki also raised eyebrows earlier this month after describing the pope as an “old man.”

Complete Article HERE!