Calif. Church Reaches $21.2M Settlement

Associated Press/June 10, 2005
By Lisa Leff

San Francisco -- The Archdiocese of San Francisco agreed Friday to settle 15 pending lawsuits involving allegations of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests for $21.2 million, the church said.

Under the settlement brokered by a retired judge who is still mediating about 40 cases, the archdiocese will pay out $6.6 million, with the rest coming from its insurers. Several other cases have gone to trial.

"During the course of the recent trials and settlement discussions, we have heard the victims' anger and grief over the impact that the abuse has had on their lives and the lives of their families and friends," said San Francisco Archbishop William Levada.

"It is our hope that the settlement of these cases will facilitate the process of healing for these victims," he added.

Ten of the 15 cases involved allegations against one San Jose priest, the Rev. Joseph Pritchard, who died in 1988.

All 15 claims were brought as the result of a 2001 state law that extended the statute of limitations for lawsuits to hold the church responsible for molestations that occurred in the past.

Plaintiffs attorney Robert Mezzetti Jr. said the court-appointed mediator, retired Judge Coleman Fannin, deserves the credit for Friday's settlement.

"The case did not settle because of the archbishop. The case settled because of the efforts of Judge Finn and dealing with the insurance companies," Mezzetti said.

He said confidentiality rules prohibit him from saying how much the plaintiffs -- 11 men and four women who are now in their early-to-mid 40s -- will each receive under the settlement.

Besides Pritchard, other former priests who were named in the lawsuits include three who served in the San Jose-area during the 1970s -- Rev. Leonel Noia, Rev. Arthur Harrison and the Rev. Gregory Ingels, according to Maurice Healy, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

The Seattle Archdiocese, meanwhile, agreed to pay $1.7 million Friday to settle four cases of alleged sexual abuse by two priests. One of the accusers, Jeff Alfieri, committed suicide in the parking lot of the Holy Family Catholic Church in Bellevue two years ago. His beneficiaries will receive $600,000.

The Seattle Archdiocese has paid settlements to nearly 200 people in sex-abuse lawsuits.

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