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Church Settles 3 Sex-Abuse Lawsuits

Agreements Are First For Archdiocese Since Start of Priest Crisis

Jan 30, 2003 | The Courier-Journal The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville has reached its first out-of-court settlements in the child sexual abuse lawsuits filed against the church.

The settlements involved three plaintiffs who alleged they were molested by the Rev. Louis E. Miller in the 1960s.

Lawyers for the archdiocese and the plaintiffs reached the settlements in a one-day mediation session Monday, according to Cecelia Price, spokeswoman for the archdiocese. The archdiocese still faces 208 other lawsuits.

The plaintiffs, Paul Fischer, Robert Andrew Natalie and Vincent Paul Natalie all alleged they were abused by Miller at Holy Spirit Church, where the priest served as an associate pastor. They are the only clients in the sex-abuse litigation represented by attorney Joseph L. White.

Miller has been accused of abuse in 81 lawsuits since last year. He also faces criminal charges of molesting 26 children in Jefferson and Oldham counties, including Fischer.

In all, 211 people have sued the archdiocese between April 2002 and this month, alleging abuse by 27 priests, three lay teachers, two religious brothers and a volunteer coach.

White declined to say what the terms of the settlements were, saying his clients requested confidentiality.

''They want to keep their privacy in these things,'' he said. ''They all had a need expressed to me that they need to get this behind them and they want to go on with their lives, and I'm going to help them do that.''

When Catholic bishops revised their policies on sexual abuse last year amid controversy over alleged abuse by priests, they agreed not to sign confidential agreements ''except for grave and substantial reasons brought forward by the victim/survivor and noted in the text of the agreement.''

Critics have accused bishops of using confidentiality agreements as tools to cover up sexual abuse.

Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief executive officer for the archdiocese, said that while he could not discuss the specifics of the agreements, the church would provide a financial accounting each year of its total expenses in settlements, litigation, counseling and other abuse-related costs.

''I'm very pleased with these three people that they're able to move on with the next stages of their lives,'' Reynolds said.

He said he hoped that ''as many cases as possible'' could be settled out of court.

''We believe it's in everybody's interest to approach this through alternative resolution methods,'' he said.

''I'm not sure the process that a trial engages in, in terms of their length and the dynamic, is always in anybody's best interest,'' he said. ''We may end up there in some cases. Hopefully a significant number can be addressed through the mediation process.''

Attorney William McMurry, who represents many of the plaintiffs, said he was ''encouraged that at least three plaintiffs have been able to settle their cases.

''I know it must be an enormous relief for those plaintiffs to be out of the litigation process. I can only hope that the archdiocese is as serious about settling the other Miller victims' cases, of which I have 75.''

While McMurry found the settlements a good development, he expressed concern about them not being made public.

''Confidentiality works to the benefit of the archdiocese in every case,'' even if the plaintiffs requested it, he said. ''The archdiocese fears the public knowing how much has been paid.''

Asked whether he would seek to have these settlements made public, McMurry said he was contemplating the matter.

White said he would oppose any effort to make the settlements public.

Jefferson Circuit Judge James M. Shake last year ordered the archdiocese to produce previously confidential legal settlements with people bringing claims against priests.

According to those records, the archdiocese and Miller reached settlements with six accusers of Miller since 1990 two to settle lawsuits and four others for out-of-court accusations. Payments were $25,000 in three cases, $7,000 in two cases and a $60,000 payment by Miller, for which the archdiocese lent him money.

Fischer declined to comment. A message left at Robert Natalie's Florida home was not returned, and Vincent Natalie's phone number is not published.

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