Abuse victim gets $199,000

Archdiocese of Indianapolis reaches settlement in first of 13 lawsuits involving former priest

The Indianapolis Star/May 13, 2010

He almost died there, too. While in his early 20s, he purposefully downed several handfuls of sleeping pills and painkillers and then walked into the church, lay down on the altar and waited to die.

When he regained consciousness in the hospital, a doctor asked him, "Who is Harry Monroe?"

The name he had repeated as he hovered near death was that of the priest who had sexually abused him years earlier at St. Catherine Catholic Church, a Southside parish. The priest had once been his best friend at a time when life at home was tough.

Now 48, the man who was sexually abused at 14 stands as the first person to negotiate a cash settlement from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in response to a lawsuit pertaining to sexual abuse by a priest.

The archdiocese agreed to pay $199,000 to the man identified in court papers as John Doe CT. It also gave him a public apology and pledged to comply with several of the man's other requests -- such as not allowing priests to take children on overnight trips or rides in their automobiles, and to require church officials to report suspected abuse to authorities. In fact, church officials said policies enacted in recent years already cover those matters.

The settlement -- agreed to May 3 but revealed publicly Wednesday -- is far from the multimillion-dollar deals reached in other dioceses. But it comes in the first of 13 lawsuits involving Monroe and just days before the case was to go to trial. Jury selection was to begin today; the trial was to start Monday.

"I'm hoping they're willing to change and to quit protecting the priests who are guilty," CT said. "So many, including myself and all the others who came after me, would never have gotten hurt if they had taken care of the problem instead of just covering it up and passing it on."

The Indianapolis Star generally doesn't identify complainants in sexual abuse cases.

The archdiocese released a statement that said it settled the case "to help the victim of abuse . . . continue his healing process."

"My hope and prayer is that this victim finds the healing and peace he seeks," Archbishop Daniel Buechlein said in the statement. "I apologize to this gentleman and anyone who has ever been harmed by any employee or volunteer who has served the Church in our archdiocese."

The settlement comes as the clergy sex abuse crisis is bringing renewed criticism on the Catholic Church -- and Pope Benedict XVI -- for failures to address abuse allegations brought against priests in recent decades. Archdiocesan officials say this settlement had more to do with court-ordered mediation and a deal they could accept than pressures regarding the scandal. But the attorney representing John Doe CT said the new pressure may have had some influence.

"This is a worldwide problem that goes all the way to Rome," said Pat Noaker, who represents the plaintiffs in all 13 cases involving Monroe. "With the public becoming more educated and more knowledgeable on these issues, jurors are a little less friendly to the archdiocese's claims of 'How were we able to know?' I think that is one aspect of why they settled now."

"This is a worldwide problem that goes all the way to Rome," said Pat Noaker, who represents the plaintiffs in all 13 cases involving Monroe. "With the public becoming more educated and more knowledgeable on these issues, jurors are a little less friendly to the archdiocese's claims of 'How were we able to know?' I think that is one aspect of why they settled now."

In depositions, Monroe admitted to sexually abusing at least five of the 13 plaintiffs who have sued. He said he may have abused the others; he just couldn't remember. Monroe, who was dismissed from the priesthood in 1984 and now lives in Nashville, Tenn., was never prosecuted because the criminal statutes of limitations have expired. He could not be reached Wednesday.

Jay Mercer, the archdiocese's attorney, said the archbishop's apology doesn't extend to admitting that church leaders were complicit in a cover-up. He said there are no records corroborating that the abuse was ever reported, and most of the people involved in handling the Monroe matters are dead.

"I have no reason to dispute what he says," Mercer said, "but there are no records."

As church spokesman Greg Otolski put it: "Whatever Harry Monroe has acknowledged himself that he did was evil, and we acknowledge that too. But that doesn't mean that the archdiocese as a whole was a conspirator with Harry Monroe to do this."

That point was going to be a major issue in court for John Doe CT, as it promises to be for the other cases to follow.

Church documents turned over to the courts as part of the lawsuits revealed that officials within the archdiocese had concerns about Monroe's behavior and involvement with young boys as early as 1976.

Despite the allegations, Monroe was assigned to new parishes, where he preyed on more children. Twice, the church sought medical evaluations and care for Monroe through a Catholic Church-supported clinic that treated abusive priests from across the country.

For John Doe CT, the cover-up began when his mother went to the pastor at St. Catherine's in 1977 and reported that Monroe repeatedly had sexually abused her son -- on overnight camping trips, in the church rectory and elsewhere. She was assured that Monroe would be removed from the ministry, her son says, that the church would take care of it. She went to her grave believing as much.

But in 2005, CT read a story in The Star about a child sexual abuse lawsuit against the archdiocese and Harry Monroe. He also read some details that shocked him -- Monroe had been assigned to parishes in Terre Haute and Tell City, along the Ohio River, in the years after he left Indianapolis.

"I was infuriated," he said. "I thought, 'What is wrong with these people? Why would they protect someone like that?"

So he sued.

CT is disabled from injuries sustained in a car crash and has extensive medical needs beyond his mental trauma from the abuse. He said he accepted the settlement out of concern that he might lose in court, or win and face years of appeals. His attorney's fees and costs will consume almost half the $199,000.

The archdiocese will pay the costs through its self-insurance fund -- an account it has built up over the years to cover liabilities. Mercer, the church attorney, said the odd figure of $199,000 reflects that the church "drew a line in the sand" heading into mediation. It also roughly covers the costs of CT's medical needs.

Purdue University sociologist Anson Shupe, who has studied the clergy sex scandal, said it appears the Catholic Church is in a more "conciliatory mood" right now.

"It used to arrogantly believe with its good name and the trust of its followers, it could stonewall and deny," Shupe said. "And now it is almost like the pendulum has swung to the other direction."

But David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said it is typical for church officials to play legal hardball right up until a case gets ready for trial, only to settle at the last minute.

"We have even seen cases in which $25,000 was offered a week before trial, $250,000 the night before the trial and a million the day before the bishop is to take the witness stand."

The next case involving Monroe is scheduled for trial in September. Attorneys for both sides said possible settlements in that and the other cases will have to be handled on an individual basis.

Through it all, CT says he hasn't let go of his faith. He still goes to a Catholic church "once in a while," even though he says he keeps looking over his shoulder, fearful that people are looking at him. He doesn't like to be hugged, and he never has been able to allow himself to get close to others.

"The church has done a lot of good for people. And it is not your local priests that are really the problem. It is the hierarchy," he said. "I think they are starting to change and treat people right."

Part of that assurance came from a meeting CT had the day the settlement was reached with Monsignor Joseph Schaedel, second locally only to the archbishop, who is recovering from stomach surgery.

CT described his abuse to Schaedel, shared what his family had done to report it and how the church had allowed Monroe to hurt other children. Schaedel apologized for his hurt. The two men prayed together. Both cried.

"But I was very sad," Schaedel said. "A meeting like that should never happen. It made me sad."

CT said he felt that Schaedel's apology was honest. And now he hopes to put his pain, and his guilt that he didn't do enough to prevent others from getting hurt, behind him.

"It meant a lot," CT said, "that he acknowledged that it happened."

Related Information

About the deal

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis reached a settlement May 3 with a plaintiff known as John Doe CT. Here are some details about the deal:

Cash: $199,000.

During mediation, the archdiocese drew "a line in the sand," according to church attorney Jay Mercer, of less than $200,000 -- a figure to cover John Doe CT's medical and counseling needs. The money will come from the archdiocese's self-insurance fund, set up to cover liabilities.

Other provisions:

  • A public apology. Archbishop Daniel Buechlein issued a statement Wednesday that will be repeated in the Criterion, the church's local newspaper. John Doe CT also received a personal apology in private from Monsignor Joseph Schaedel when the settlement was reached last week.
  • Limits on priests. John Doe CT requested that the archdiocese ban priests from taking overnight trips with children or allowing them to ride in their cars. Church officials say such policies already are in place.
  • Education. John Doe CT requested that all church employees be trained on the warning signs of child sexual abuse and children be trained about "safe touches." Church officials say such programs already are in place.
  • Reporting. John Doe CT demanded that the church adopt a clear policy that requires its employees and volunteers to report any suspected sexual abuse to law enforcement. Church officials say a policy already is in place to require abuse reports be made to Child Protective Services.

Those involved in the case

About Harry Monroe

Monroe, 62, grew up in New Albany. He was a priest with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis from 1974 to 1984. In Indianapolis, he served at St. Monica, St. Andrew and St. Catherine. He also served at parishes in Terre Haute and Tell City. Church officials say he was relieved of his ministry in 1984. He was never prosecuted because officials said allegations were brought forth after the statute of limitations had expired. In recent years, Monroe has been living in Nashville, Tenn.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis

The archdiocese has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and compensation for counseling and medical treatment for priest sex abuse victims. But until this case, it had never settled a priest sexual abuse lawsuit. The archdiocese said in the year ending June 30, 2009, it paid $87,000 to provide counseling for victims of sexual misconduct. In that same period, it also spent $147,000 for legal fees to defend the archdiocese in sex abuse lawsuits.

St. Catherine Church

St. Catherine Church closed in 1993, and the parish was merged with another to form what is now Good Shepherd Catholic Church.

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