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$25.7 million settlement reached in Kentucky church abuse cases

SHARE $25.7 million settlement reached in Kentucky church abuse cases

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — One of the largest collections of civil actions against the Roman Catholic church came to a close when the Archdiocese of Louisville agreed to pay $25.7 million to 243 people who accused priests and employees of child sexual abuse.

Archbishop Thomas Kelly addressed victims Tuesday as the settlement was announced.

"I apologize again for what we did or failed to do that led to your abuse," Kelly said. "I hope today's settlement is a sign of our willingness to help you in your healing."

The settlement was one of the largest in the United States to come out of an archdiocese's coffers, plaintiffs attorney William McMurry said. Financial disclosure reports listed the archdiocese liquid assets at $48 million, McMurry said.

That, he said, "speaks volumes about the legitimacy of those lawsuits."

For more than a year, the archdiocese has faced a sex-abuse scandal in which dozens of its priests and several other employees were accused. The archdiocese was inundated with lawsuits filed by people who accused it of covering up the alleged abuse or doing nothing to stop it; many of lawsuits were based on decades-old revelations.

Attorneys for both the archdiocese and the plaintiffs began meeting last week to reach the out-of-court settlement. The mediator, former U.S. District Judge Nicholas Politan of New Jersey, presented the amount to which the parties agreed.

The archdiocese has 30 days to put the $25.7 million in a court-controlled escrow account, said Brian Reynolds, chief administrative officer of the archdiocese.

The Franciscan Community was named in 19 of the lawsuits and will help pay an undisclosed portion of the settlement.

The archdiocese will also require training for all employees and volunteers on sexual-abuse awareness. "Safe touch" training will be offered to children beginning in kindergarten.

But the massive settlement will seriously damage the archdiocese.

"Our ability to serve the poor, to serve the community will be impacted negatively by this amount of litigation," Reynolds said. "However it is also imperative that these men and women were also hurt and need our support as well."

The archdiocese recently announced it was cutting 34 jobs, or about 12 percent of its work force, as well as freezing salaries and slashing its budget by about $2 million.

Kelly, who faces mandatory retirement in three years, said he will not step down before then. "It's not good management to walk out in the middle of the situation we're in right now," he said.

Reynolds acknowledged the archbishop's resignation was something the litigants wanted to be discussed at the mediations.

Mary Miller, 40, whose uncle, the Rev. Louis Miller, was convicted of sexually abusing her and 28 others as children, said the settlement "could have been $250 million — it's never going to change what happened."

Louis Miller was sentenced May 27 to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to 50 counts of sexual misconduct in Jefferson County. He pleaded guilty to sexual abuse cases in Oldham County on Monday.

Two other priests, the Revs. Daniel C. Clark and James Hargadon; a former priest, Bruce Ewing; and two teachers are awaiting trial. All five have pleaded innocent and were employed by the Louisville archdiocese.

At morning mass Wednesday at Holy Spirit Church and School in Louisville, longtime parishioner Condon Russell and others said they support the archbishop and worry that changing leadership would be difficult right now.

"I think he's tried to do the best he can through all of this. ... I take him at his word that he will build from here," Russell said. "My sympathies are now with the 98 percent of priests who are faithful men to the church."

Around the nation, several other large settlements between dioceses and victims have been reached in the past year.

In September, the Providence, R.I., diocese agreed to pay $13.5 million to settle 36 sex-abuse claims. The same month, the Boston Archdiocese agreed to pay $10 million to 86 alleged victims of the Rev. John Geoghan. The archdiocese had rejected an earlier settlement, worth up to $30 million, saying it could not afford it.

The Diocese of Manchester, N.H., last month reached a $6.5 million settlement with 61 alleged victims, settling most of the sexual abuse lawsuits in the state.