Sex-abuse cases cost church $14.3 million

Associated Press/January 22, 2004
By Nicholas K. Geranios

Spokane -- Sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests in Washington has cost at least $14.3 million in recent years, with most of that paid by insurance, according to a survey by The Associated Press.

The Seattle Archdiocese and the Spokane Diocese both contend that they have been able to pay most bills through insurance coverage.

But leaders of the Yakima Diocese said general operating money has paid some costs for dealing with sex abuse. That has left budgets tight for the diocese office, said John Young, an official with Catholic Charities in Yakima.

"The Diocese of Yakima has not experienced any reduction in its programs or staffing as a consequence of any settlements or deductibles," Young said this week. "We haven't spent that much money to have that be a factor to us."

The Catholic Church is in the midst of preparing a nationwide report on the number of sex-abuse victims and offenders, and the financial cost to the church. The report by the John Jay College of Justice is expected in February.

Statewide, at least 64 Catholic priests have been accused of molesting at least 177 victims, with some cases going back more than 50 years. New lawsuits continue to be filed.

Two lawsuits filed Tuesday, for example, contend that priests molested a dozen students at private St. Mary's school in the town of Chewelah in the 1940s and 1950s. The school is now closed.

One of the victims, retired educator Joe Newbury, said yesterday he decided to make his name public as a way to encourage other victims to come forward.

Newbury alleges he was abused by a priest for two years in the 1950s.

Here is a rundown of spending for sex-abuse cases in Washington:

In late November, Yakima Bishop Carlos Sevilla issued a report saying that so far Catholic Mutual Insurance had settled claims for $419,000, with an additional $83,000 paid as a deductible by the diocese.

The Yakima diocese also has paid $98,725 in other settlements; $11,058 in rehabilitation costs for victims and perpetrator priests; and $98,328 in attorney's fees.

Catholic Mutual Insurance paid an additional $312,605 in attorney's fees.

In its annual report for 2002, the Seattle Archdiocese said settlement costs in sexual abuse cases since 1987 have totaled about $2.8 million for 65 victims. Counseling for victims cost $500,000, and attorney's fees were $800,000. Insurance covered all the costs, the archdiocese said.

In September, the archdiocese agreed to pay $7.87 million to settle 15 sexual abuse cases involving the Rev. James McGreal. In December, it agreed to pay $425,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging a priest sexually assaulted three young brothers. A 2003 financial report is due this spring.

Last month, the Spokane Diocese said it had settled two complaints against former priests for a total of $120,000. The diocese also has spent $76,000 on counseling and medication for alleged victims. Those payments were from the church, and did not include any money paid by insurance companies or perpetrators, the diocese said.

In addition, the diocese has paid almost $750,000 to attorneys and their consultants.

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