First Two Phila. Clergy Abuse Lawsuits Settle

The Legal Intelligencer, Pennsylvania/April 30, 2015

By P.J. D'Annunzio

Two plaintiffs in civil cases alleging they had been abused by priests from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia have settled their lawsuits against the church for an undisclosed amount.

According to the accusers' attorney and the dockets in the cases, the settlements concluded the cases of John Doe 10 and John Doe 187, who claimed they were the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by archdiocese clerics. Malvern-based attorney Daniel Monahan represents the plaintiffs and said the terms of the settlement remain confidential at the wishes of his clients.

Monahan said the cases settled on the eve of trial, but the archdiocese gave no indication as to its reason for settling.

According to the complaints, Doe 187, a former altar boy at the Incarnation of Our Lord parish, alleged that Father William Ayres abused him in different areas of the church, while Doe 10 claimed he was sexually abused in the bathroom of the St. Aloysius Academy in Bryn Mawr as a student by former priest Martin Satchell. Both incidents were alleged to have occurred in the 1990s, while the plaintiffs were minors.

Satchell's attorney, Stephen Patrizio, did not return a call seeking comment. Ayres was not represented, and according to Monahan, now lives in Guatemala.

The plaintiffs alleged the archdiocese knew about patterns of abuse committed by priests, but did nothing to safeguard those children who were at risk. According to Monahan, the settlement itself is between the plaintiffs and the archdiocese, as all other defendants, including Ayres and Satchell, had been dismissed.

Conrad O'Brien attorney Nicholas M. Centrella represents the archdiocese and did not return a call seeking comment.

In a statement sent to The Legal, an archdiocese spokesman said, "For some time now, the archdiocese has provided assistance to both men on their paths toward healing, including financial support in the form of payment for ongoing psychological treatment."

"In order to help all parties move forward, the archdiocese has agreed to these settlements," the spokesman continued. "Today, the archdiocese reaffirms its ongoing resolve to take all allegations of child sexual abuse seriously and report them to appropriate law enforcement agencies. We deeply regret the pain suffered by any victim of child sexual abuse and have a sincere desire to help survivors on their path to healing."

Monahan said the settlements were significant for the plaintiffs. "One of the important things for these clients is a sense of empowerment, taking back some of the power they lost when they were children," Monahan said.

According to Monahan, roughly 15 clergy-abuse cases handled by his firm have been dismissed on statute of limitations issues, while an additional two are on appeal before the state Superior Court for similar issues. Doe 10 and Doe 187 are the first two to reach settlement.

Thomas R. Kline of Kline & Specter said his firm is now handling the case of Sean McIlmail, who died after a drug overdose years after being sexually abused. Additionally, attorneys Slade McLaughlin and Paul Lauricella of McLaughlin & Lauricella are handling a clergy abuse case brought by plaintiff Billy Doe. In that case, Billy Doe is attempting to have the court compel the archdiocese's secret archive files, allegedly containing unflattering information on a number of priests.

Monahan said he is arguing in the two cases on appeal that a diagnosis of injury—in these cases, post-traumatic stress disorder—should begin the tolling of the statute rather than the date of the abuse.

Victims of sexual abuse as minors "don't realize they're being injured when they're being abused for a variety of reasons," Monahan said. "They don't understand the psychological harm, which doesn't manifest itself until later."

In Doe 10 and Doe 187's cases, "both were filed before they turned 30 years old which was the applicable [statute of limitations] for them since they were younger than 20 when the law was changed in August 2002," Monahan said.

In response to Doe 10 and Doe 187's complaints, the archdiocese issued blanket denials in court papers.

The plaintiffs also made claims of negligence against the former secretary of clergy for the archdiocese, Monsignor William Lynn, who was also released from the litigation.

Earlier this week, the state Supreme Court reinstated Lynn's conviction, finding a conviction for endangering the welfare of a child does not require actual supervision of the child.

The high court's ruling reversed the Superior Court's decision that found Lynn could not have been convicted for endangering the welfare of children he never supervised.

"On the commonwealth's appeal, we reverse the Superior Court, concluding that there is no statutory requirement of direct supervision of children," Justice Max Baer said for the majority. "Under the facts presented at trial, [Lynn] was a person supervising the welfare of many children because, as a high-ranking official in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, he was specifically responsible for protecting children from sexually abusive priests."

Thomas Bergstrom, Lynn's defense attorney, had said he was disappointed with the court's ruling, which he said is "troubling because it makes it pretty clear one can be convicted of the statute without even knowing the child exists."

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, whose office prosecuted Lynn, said he was glad to see the Supreme Court held the evidence was sufficient to convict Lynn.

"Today's announcement sends the clear message that if anyone—priest, layperson, citizen, police officer or elected official—knowingly puts children at risk of being sexually molested, they will be held accountable," Williams said in a statement Monday evening.

Lynn spent 18 months in jail. If he has to go back, Bergstrom had said Lynn might be facing another year, but could also get time served for his time on house arrest.

Lynn was the first Catholic Church administrative official convicted of endangering the welfare of children abused by other priests. He was sentenced to three to six years of incarceration.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

Educational DVDs and Videos