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Baltimore Archdiocese Paid $5.6 Million In Abuse Cases

Sep 26, 2002 | The Washington Post Roman Catholic Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore disclosed Wednesday that his archdiocese and its insurers have spent more than $5.6 million in the last 20 years on legal settlements, counseling and other expenses stemming from incidents of child sexual abuse by priests.

Keeler also released a list of 56 priests and members of Catholic religious orders who were accused of molesting children while serving in the archdiocese, with some of the allegations dating to the 1950s. Their names were posted on the archdiocese's Web site Wednesday, along with the details about which parishes they served, when their alleged misconduct occurred and how church officials handled the case. Previously, the archdiocese had named 28 priests accused of child sexual abuse.

The cardinal's announcement is one of the most comprehensive accountings that any of the nation's Catholic dioceses have provided on the scope and financial cost of child abuse by priests, according to church analysts and victim advocacy groups.

"I think it's extraordinarily significant and may well become the model for all 195 dioceses," said Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, head of a national lay review board set up by U.S. Catholic bishops to monitor compliance with their new child abuse policies. "This is precisely what the children need, what lay Catholics demand and what God's church must do."

In a letter to the 180,000 registered families in the Baltimore Archdiocese, which includes Howard and Anne Arundel counties, Keeler said he was releasing the information to protect children, encourage more victims to come forward and remove suspicion from priests who are innocent of misconduct. He also said the disclosures were part of the "transparency and openness" called for in the document that U.S. Catholic bishops approved in June to address the church's national abuse scandal.

"Ultimately, there is nothing to be gained by secrecy except the avoidance of scandal," wrote Keeler, who became head of the Baltimore Archdiocese in 1989. "And rather than shrinking from this scandal--which, too often, has allowed it to continue--we must address it with humble contrition, righteous anger and public outrage. Telling the truth cannot be wrong."

According to the information it released Wednesday, the archdiocese's insurers have negotiated and paid legal settlements totaling $4.1 million in eight abuse cases over the last 20 years. Archdiocesan spokesman Steve Kearney declined to disclose the names of the accused priests in those eight cases, although he said that six of the cases were publicly covered in the news media.

In addition, the archdiocese reported that since 1987, it has spent $419,186 in counseling expenses for abuse victims; $112,520 in legal expenses for accused priests; $387,019 for psychiatric and other medical treatment for suspended priests; and $616,201 for suspended priests' living expenses. Kearney said that only four of the 56 clergy members named Wednesday were still receiving any financial support from the archdiocese.

Kearney said the archdiocese did not release pre-1987 spending figures because the records from those years are less reliable.

Few other Catholic Church officials have been willing to provide such financial data. A Washington Post survey in June found that 26 dioceses had released some financial information, including $106 million in acknowledged legal settlements. In May, Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, disclosed that his diocese had paid $3.1 million for legal settlements and counseling over the last 10 years.

The Archdiocese of Washington does not plan to make a similar financial disclosure, spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said Wednesday. She added that she did not have a dollar figure for "the very few financial settlements" the archdiocese has made and that it does not release "personal medical information," including the amount spent for counseling victims.

Gibbs said that such medical and legal expenses have "primarily come from insurance" and that none of it comes from the money collected under the annual Cardinal's Appeal.

The 56 accused of child sex abuse whose names were released by Keeler on Wednesday consisted of 26 diocesan priests, 16 priests from religious orders, three brothers in religious orders and 11 priests from other dioceses who allegedly committed abuse while in Baltimore. Also posted is the name of a diocesan priest convicted of possessing child pornography.

None of the men listed is currently serving in any ministry with the archdiocese.

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