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Church Reveals It Has Paid $4.1 Million for Sex-Abuse Victims

Apr 3, 2003 | Seattle Times

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle announced yesterday that it has paid $4.1 million since 1987 for 65 victims of sexual abuse by clergy serving in the archdiocese.

This is the first time the archdiocese has publicly released numbers on victims, settlement amounts and dollars spent on counseling and attorneys fees since the national clergy sexual-abuse scandal broke early last year.

The $4.1 million, paid by archdiocese insurance companies, includes $2.8 million in settlement costs, $800,000 in attorney's fees and $500,000 in counseling and pastoral care for victims.

The archdiocese counted back to 1987 because "that's when these things started to be addressed and when settlements started to occur," said archdiocese spokeswoman Jackie O'Ryan.

Parishioners and victims advocates have called for the release of such figures for months. The archdiocese had taken the stance that such numbers would be irrelevant or misleading in understanding the scope of the problem locally.

O'Ryan said yesterday that Archbishop Alex Brunett "believes now that this is important and he's responding to questions that have come from members of our parishes. He feels it's a legitimate question."

In addition, O'Ryan said this is the first time such totals were available since "the task of compiling these numbers took some time."

The Seattle Archdiocese has made an effort recently to be more forthcoming with its numbers, disclosing earlier this year that 47 priests serving in the archdiocese since the mid-1950s have been accused of sexual abuse of minors. Thirteen of those cases all diocesan priests who are either retired or on administrative leave are being reviewed by the archdiocese's special review panel.

Jim Biteman, a member of the Seattle chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said the archdiocese's release of such figures is "a positive move in the right direction, but there's definitely a long way to go in their openness and willingness to work with victims."

Biteman said that the archdiocese's figure of 65 victims is "a small percentage of the actual number of victims out there" and that only if the archdiocese's secret archives, which contain private personnel records on priests accused of crimes and immoral acts, are released will "the true extent of the problem be exposed."

David Clohessy, executive director of the national SNAP group, estimates less than 20 percent of dioceses nationwide have released figures on sexual-abuse victims and associated costs.

He acknowledged those dioceses are making an effort to live up to the openness and accountability promised in a policy passed by the nation's bishops last year in response to the scandal. But "in some degree, the sheer dollar figures are always questionable at best, and maybe irrelevant at worst, because in the absence of any real independent accounting, we're simply taking them at their word."

"It's hard to read much into what those dollar figures mean," he added.

Certainly, the Seattle Archdiocese's numbers pale beside those from Boston, epicenter of the clergy-abuse scandal, where the archdiocese has reportedly paid up to $20 million, according to reports from last year. Lawyers familiar with the lawsuits, however, have publicly said that figure could exceed $200 million.

The Chicago Archdiocese said in February that its costs in the past decade totaled $16.8 million.

The Spokane Diocese said in January that it settled six lawsuits with eight victims, totaling $480,000. The diocese also spent $62,439 on counseling, legal and medical costs.

The Seattle Archdiocese is facing at least 32 active lawsuits involving alleged abuse committed before 1981. The archdiocese says it is not aware of any allegations of sexual abuse of minors committed by its clergy since new policies on sexual abuse were put into place in 1988.

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