November 28, 2005

Do right by church sex-abuse victims

Cincinnati Enquirer

The lawyers finally can cite a number - though not the final number - of claimed sex-abuse victims in a class-action lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington. Last week's deadline established there are 373 potential claimants for compensation. Although that number will likely drop, it should speed a settlement of a related federal lawsuit to force insurers to pay their part of the $120 million settlement.

A few claimants from other cities seem to have mistakenly applied for payouts from Covington Diocese. Ineligible claimants will be excluded. Plaintiffs, insurers and the diocese should quickly weed out false claims, clear up unknowns and award fair compensation so victims and the diocese can heal and move on.

The attorneys say a settlement with the insurance companies is already close. A firmer number helps. Plaintiffs' lead attorney Stan Chesley had estimated the number of victims could reach as high as 1,000, while church officials reported priests had abused 205 people since the 1950s. But in June the class action was expanded also to include victims abused by lay people employed by the diocese. About 60 claimants chose not to join the class action. If added to the 373, the total rises to 433.

In contrast, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's $3 million victim-compensation fund initially drew 134 claimants. Besides the vast difference in dollar amounts for the two funds, Cincinnati's was not a class-action settlement, but rather established as part of a no-contest plea deal to five misdemeanor charges of failing to report a felony.

The Covington Diocese agreed to pay up to $40 million for any sex abuse cases not covered by insurance policies. If the full $120 million were paid out, it would make this church sex-abuse settlement the largest in the nation, but given the lower number of claimants, payouts are likely to total well short of the cap.

Posted by kshaw at November 28, 2005 01:19 PM