Archdioceses release settlement payments over clergy sex abuse claims
By Catholic News Service
ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Two U.S. archdioceses released details on the size of settlements made with victims of clergy sexual abuse.
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, net claims and litigation expense, not counting legal fees, for the one-year period ending last June 30 came to $3.95 million, according to an audit report issued Feb. 13 by the archdiocese.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, in what church officials said was the last of its pending abuse lawsuits, reached a $13 million agreement with 17 clergy sexual abuse victims in mid-February, shortly before the scheduled start of a trial over lawsuits involving alleged acts of then-Father Nicolas Aguilar-Rivera, a visiting priest from Mexico who police believe molested more than two dozen boys in 1987.
In Minnesota, the archdiocese "is involved in various lawsuits relating to claims of alleged sexual misconduct by certain individuals and is vigorously defending these matters and will continue to do so in a manner consistent with the norms established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and with all due respect to the victims of childhood sexual abuse," the financial report said.
"The release of our full audited financial report, as well as additional information to explain particular points of interest, is part of our ongoing commitment to improve transparency and accountability, evidenced not only in our ongoing disclosure of clergy with credible claims of abuse of minors, but also through our commitment to improved financial reporting," said Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piche of St. Paul and Minneapolis, vicar general, in a Feb. 13 essay accompanying the financial report.
"We are taking these steps because they are the right thing to do," Bishop Piche said, "because they help us to protect the young and vulnerable, care for victims of abuse, and restore trust among the laity, as well as our clergy who are serving honorably."
He added, "We have made a commitment to transparency because we are accountable to the people we serve."
Bishop Piche penned the essay because Archbishop John C. Nienstedt on Dec. 17 stepped aside from public ministry when an allegation was made against him. He is accused of inappropriately touching a male minor on the buttocks in 2009 during a group photography session following a confirmation ceremony. According to church and civil protocol, the accusation was being investigated by law enforcement.
Archbishop Nienstedt said in a letter to Catholics in the archdiocese the allegation was "absolutely and entirely false." He added, "True, I am a sinner, but my sins do not include any kind of abuse of minors."
The archdiocese "has no practical means to determine the likelihood of outcome for (settlement) amounts above that which would be more likely than any other outcome. No amounts have been accrued for unknown claims as losses cannot be reasonably determined," the financial report said. "The amounts recorded are management's estimates and are not intended to be indicative of the actual legal outcomes of the individual cases. Losses from unknown claims could also be substantial."
The financial report added, "Unknown claims can go back many years where insurance may not have been available or coverage limits were minimal. Also punitive damages and other claims may not be covered by insurance at all. Therefore, these unknown claims and related insurance receivables are not included in management's estimates at this time."
In Los Angeles, in a statement about the $13 million settlement there, the archdiocese said it wanted "to settle the civil cases of abuse and to provide support to the victims through the healing process. We continue to pray earnestly for all victims and their families so that they may find emotional and spiritual healing.
"We also reiterate our firm commitment to the protection of our children and young people."
The Los Angeles Times reported that the settlement included about $1 million for each of the 11 alleged victims Aguilar-Rivera -- who were between ages 7-12 at the time -- and smaller amounts to six claimants who said they were molested by other priests.
According to the Times, there have been roughly 500 victims to date who have stepped forward. The abuse claims have cost the Los Angeles Archdiocese more than $740 million. To help pay for the claims, the archdiocese sold real estate, took out a $175 million loan and tapped $115 million set aside for cemetery maintenance to pay the settlements. Last year, the archdiocese explored the possibility of a $200 million capital campaign to help repay the loan.
Aguilar-Rivera was formally charged in 1988, but an archdiocesan priest, after receiving two claims of abuse by him before the charges were filed, met with him and told him he was in danger of being arrested. Aguilar-Rivera fled the United States, was never criminally prosecuted and remains at large.
An attorney for the victims said that, while investigating the matter last year in Mexico, he was told Aguilar-Rivera, now in his 70s, was spotted at a church and a convent near his hometown.