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Diocese Reaches Settlement With Sex Abuse Victims

Jan 1, 2005 | Mercury News

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland announced that it had settled lawsuits with 56 victims of sex abuse for a total of $56 million.

The settlements come after about four months of negotiations and ends all such suits against the diocese.

"My clients are relieved that they can finally bring this to closure," said the attorney, who represented about half of the plaintiffs. "They can be satisfied that they have done something concrete to make sure the sex abuse they experienced is never repeated."

The individual settlements range from $200,000 to more than $2 million, Simons said.

The Oakland diocese, which encompasses churches in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, is tied to about a third of Northern California sexual abuse cases, involving 24 priests. Northern California dioceses have been involved in more than 150 sex abuse lawsuits.

Two former altar boys from Antioch, Robert and Tom Thatcher, won $1.93 million in damages against the Oakland diocese in April after a jury found that a priest had molested them in 1980.

Because the record from those proceedings reflects that the church was at fault, the plaintiffs in Friday's settlements felt they did not need to go to trial, Simons said.

"I don't think it's a contest as to whether there were abuses in the Oakland diocese," he said.

An attorney for the diocese said the diocese felt that trials can be difficult for victims.

"The bishop wants to do what he can to heal what's been done in the past," said Steve McFeely. "That's easier to do with settlements rather than trials."

As part of the negotiations, attorneys would not finalize any one settlement unless agreeing upon all of them, Simons said.

Paying victims of abuse is the "bare minimum" that needs to be done, said Dan McNevin, the leader of East Bay Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. The diocese needs to make more of an effort to find victims and disclose the names of sex abusers.

"Sex abuse is never fair," he said. "The courage of these survivors to come forward has revealed a horrific pattern of concealment that had to be exposed."

The Sacramento Diocese settled 33 claims for $35 million in June. In July, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco announced it would pay $16 million to settle 12 clergy sex abuse cases.

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