First clergy abuse settlement approved in Minnesota

The Crosiers, a small religious order in Onamia, will pay $25 million to 67 abuse victims.

Star Tribune, Minnesota/March 22, 2018

By Jean Hopfensperger

A $25 million settlement between the Crosier religious order and victims of clergy sexual abuse was approved by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge Thursday, becoming the first such settlement adopted in Minnesota.

An objection filed last week by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was withdrawn after the parties added language protecting the archdiocese from possible future lawsuits involving Crosier clergy.

The Crosiers, the abuse victims and their attorneys attributed the swift settlement to a spirit of cooperation and respect that shaped settlement discussions.

“This is a model that should be followed by any cases involving abuse,” said an emotional Ben Januschka, a member of the survivors’ creditors committee, who sat in the front row of the courtroom at Thursday’s hearing. “Now the healing can begin.”

Sixty-seven abuse victims filed claims in bankruptcy court against the Phoenix-based religious order, which has a community in the Minnesota town of Onamia.

Most of the sex abuse occurred between the 1960s and 1980s. It involved teenage boys at the Crosiers’ boarding school and young altar boys who served at the Holy Cross Church next door. Crosier priests also served in parishes across Minnesota.

The religious order will pay $5.7 million, with the remaining $19.7 million paid by its insurer, Hartford Insurance. The names of 20 clergy credibly accused of sexually abusing children are listed on the Crosier website.

Rev. Thomas Enneking, the religious superior for the Crosier order, apologized from the witness stand on Thursday for the trauma inflicted on the children under Crosier care.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said after the hearing. “I know that the suffering of survivors continues, that something was lost in their own life experiences that can never be recaptured.”

At the same time, Enneking said he felt a sense of pride.

“We’ve been able to work with all the parties and kept things moving forward in an efficient and cost-saving way so the bulk [of the money] can go to survivors,” he said.

The settlement was unusual in that it was reached by the religious order, its insurer and the abuse victims before the Crosiers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year.

In addition to the Crosiers, four Minnesota Catholic dioceses have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection following a flood of clergy abuse claims. They are negotiating settlements with victims and their attorneys.

Victims’ attorney Jeff Anderson, whose law firm represents clients in all those cases, said the Crosier case stands out because of the “honesty, transparency and respect shown for survivors.”

“They did not try to hide their assets, did not try to hide their ability to pay,” he said. “We had disagreements, but they were worked out. ... This is a good day.”

Shrinking order

The settlement proposal suffered a setback last week, when the archdiocese filed a motion objecting to the agreement to “preserve its insurance rights regarding overlapping claims.” Attorneys for abuse victims said the objection would have the effect of delaying individuals’ settlements until after the archdiocese settled its own bankruptcy proceedings, which is now entering its fourth year.

The archdiocese withdrew that motion after additional clarifying wording was included in the settlement, approved by bankruptcy Judge Robert Kressel.

“As we said last week, we never intended to delay the settlement, and that’s what happened,” said Thomas Abood, chairman of the archdiocese reorganization task force. “As the settlement today shows, all that was needed was clarification that the Crosiers’ plan does not allow abuse claimants to collect Crosiers’ liability from the archdiocese or its carriers.”

The Crosier religious order in the United States, which numbered more than 200 priests and brothers in the 1970s, today has 46 members, said Enneking. Most live in Minnesota.

The Crosier’s $5.7 million contribution to the settlement is equal to two years of its annual operating budgets, he said. But the religious order will be able to continue its work, he stressed, including supporting its aging members.

“The Crosiers will move forward,” he said. “The people who have known us and loved us have not gone away.”

Januschka, meanwhile, said the settlement is an enormous relief to the survivors who have waited decades for some resolution to their abuse. He said, “It’s been very emotional.”

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