$3 million settlement fund to be fully spent

80 file church abuse claims

The Cincinnati Enquirer/August 31, 2004
By Dan Horn

The Settlement

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati created a $3 million settlement fund last year to compensate victims of clergy abuse: "Deadline: All claims must be filed by Wednesday.

" How to file: Claim forms can be found online at www.settlementfund.org or requested by phone, toll free at (877) 482-8292.

"Rules: All those filing claims must give up their right to pursue legal action against the archdiocese in court. Filing a claim does not guarantee an award from the fund.

"How it works: The claim form asks basic questions about the alleged abuse. The fund administrator investigates the claim and then submits a report to an independent three-member tribunal, which determines compensation.

Almost 80 people are seeking a share of the $3 million set aside for victims of clergy abuse in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

With the Sept. 1 deadline for filing claims just one day away, the officials in charge of the $3 million settlement fund say the number of claims has doubled in the past week.

"We've had a big rush," said Matthew Garretson, the Cincinnati lawyer who administers the fund. "About 40 claims have come in over the last 72 hours."

He said the number of claims is about what he expected when the filing process began in March, and he said it virtually assures that all of the $3 million in the fund will be spent. He expects the process to be concluded by the end of the year.

When the fund was created last year, church officials said not all the money would be handed out if only a few victims made claims.

"It appears the fund will be exhausted," Garretson said Monday.

He said the flood of 11th-hour filings was no surprise because the fund's rules require anyone who applies for compensation to drop pending lawsuits against the archdiocese.

By waiting until the deadline, applicants give themselves more time to decide whether they are better off suing the archdiocese for damages or seeking compensation from the fund.

Some victims complain that the fund is an attempt by the archdiocese to impose its own settlement terms.

Church officials, however, say the fund is a fair means to provide at least some compensation to victims who might otherwise receive nothing, either because they cannot prove their claims or because too much time has passed to file a lawsuit.

The fund was created last year after the archdiocese was convicted of failing to report abuse allegations involving priests.

Although some of the claims filed recently involved people who had sued the church, at least 70 others have decided to continue to pursue their claims in court.

Konrad Kircher, the Mason lawyer who represents many of those alleged victims, said his clients think that court action is the only way to hold the archdiocese accountable.

"Their objectives are to uncover the truth," he said. "They also don't want the archdiocese to unilaterally declare what victims need to heal. They don't feel the settlement fund is a sincere effort to help them."

But he said 25 of his clients did file claims late last week. Fourteen of those had not previously filed lawsuits, and 11 agreed to dismiss pending lawsuits.

"They're not happy with the situation," Kircher said. "They're certainly not grateful to the archdiocese, but they just need to get over the process and move on."

All of the claims submitted to the fund will go through an evaluation process, in which Garretson will verify basic details - such as whether the priest worked at the church at the time of an allegation - and will interview applicants.

Garretson will then present a report on each case to the independent tribunal created last year to oversee the fund. The tribunal members include Cincinnati attorney Robert Stachler and former judges Ann Marie Tracey and Thomas Nurre.

Garretson will devise a formula for the disbursement of money, and the tribunal will determine exactly how much each victim gets.

Garretson said some of the complaints he's received date back more than 50 years, although most are from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. He said many of those involve a small number of priests who have been accused of serial abuse.

"The names the public is aware of will make up the lion's share of these complaints," Garretson said.

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