Washington archdiocese settles with victims of clergy abuse

Associated Press/December 16, 2006
By Derrill Holly

Washington -- The Archdiocese of Washington has agreed to pay $1.3 million to more than a dozen men who claimed they were sexually abused by priests between 1962 and 1982.

The agreement with 16 men was announced Friday by church officials.

"Our clients were in severe distress, emotionally, psychologically, financially and spiritually, and felt that a settlement was appropriate at this time," said Peter M. Gillon, an attorney for the men.

Gillon said the men began pursuing the civil claims three years ago, but no lawsuits were filed, in part because the statutes of limitation had expired in the jurisdictions where the acts allegedly occurred. That's one likely reason for the agreement amount, which is much lower than other clergy-abuse settlements

The Archdiocese of Washington includes more than 560,000 Roman Catholics in 140 parishes in the District of Columbia and five southern Maryland counties.

Each of the men submitted medical histories and psychiatric evaluations before detailed discussions about monetary settlements began last year. Eighteen of about 30 clients initially accepted the settlement, but two dropped out because they have obtained new counsel and are pursuing separate claims that do not involve the archdiocese.

The settlement, first reported in Saturday's editions of The Washington Post, provides cash payments of $10,000 to $190,000 to each of the men.

Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, characterized the awards as money to "pay for counseling for people who've been harmed by clergy abuse."

In 2004, the archdiocese paid a total of $200,000 to cover counseling costs for alleged victims of sexual abuse by clergy members. Gibbs said the settlement agreement requires the 16 men to pay for all future counseling and related expenses.

"Most of the people involved here have been receiving counseling from the archdiocese; They've accepted it in the past," she said.

The allegations raised by the men stemmed from events that occurred between 24 and 44 years ago, and two of the men receiving settlement money already have lost legal claims against the archdiocese. The settlements will be covered by insurance reserves and not from other church assets, operating funds or collections, Gibbs said.

One of the victims, George Kresslein Jr., told The Post that he had hoped for a larger sum. But an even bigger disappointment, he said, was that his alleged abuser, who was removed from ministry, has not acknowledged guilt.

"An admission means much more to me than the money," Kresslein, 50, told The Post.

The settlement involves allegations of abuse by eight priests, all of whom have been removed from ministry. Seven have been prosecuted, and one was acquitted.

David Clohessy, the national director of the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerll is doing what leaders of many other Roman Catholic dioceses have done: Settle with victims before specifics about their allegations are made public.

"We're certain that there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of victims who are still suffering in shame and in self denial," Clohessy said.

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