St. Louis archdiocese settles clergy abuse case for nearly $1.7 million

Associated Press/April 21, 2004
By Jim Suhr

St. Louis -- The Archdiocese of St. Louis will pay nearly $1.7 million to a family whose son was sexually abused over three years by a Roman Catholic priest now serving 15 years in prison, the family's attorney said Wednesday.

Robert Ritter said that he and attorneys for the church settled Tuesday in the case of the Rev. Gary Wolken, the former associate pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church.

In pleading guilty in December 2002 to two counts of statutory sodomy and six counts of child molestation, Wolken admitted exposing himself to the son of a family friend, inappropriately touching him and having oral sex with him from 1997 to 2000. The abuse began when the child was in kindergarten and often took place while Wolken baby-sat.

The archdiocese said the settlement was its largest in a sexual-abuse case in its 157-year history. "While the settlement represents closure of the civil case, our pastoral concern and our prayers continue for all who have been affected by this tragic abuse," church officials said in a statement.

Wolken was arrested in 2002.

In February of last year, Circuit Judge John Kintz sentenced Wolken to 15 years in prison, after a family counselor read statements to the court from the father, mother, sister and the victim. Among other things, the boy, then 10, said he was being teased at school and was getting counseling.

Noting that Wolken himself had been abused as a child, Kintz told the clergyman at sentencing, "Some day, some time, this chain of sex abuse by priests must stop."

Ritter said the family had notified the archdiocese that a lawsuit was probable.

"I would say the victim's parents feel that this significant settlement is recognition by the archdiocese of its responsibility," Ritter said. "And while the family has maintained their faith, there's continued pain and despair over this tragedy."

As part of the settlement, Ritter said, the archdiocese denied any liability.

The archdiocese has said that Wolken was removed from his parish in March 2002 and suspended from the priesthood. The archdiocese said it triggered a police investigation after learning of the allegations, and that Wolken's sentencing "brings to an end the civil proceedings in the case of the grave sexual abuse of a child."

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