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Judge approves settlement of up to $85 million in church sex abuse case

Feb 1, 2006 | AP

Acknowledging that no amount of money can make up for what sexual abuse victims lost, a judge approved a settlement of up to $85 million between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington and parishioners who were molested by clergy.

Special Judge John Potter said in a 15-page ruling Tuesday the abuse prevented many victims from reaching their full potential later in life.

“Because each child experienced the abuse before he or she had a chance to develop or otherwise indicate the probable trajectory of his or her life,” Potter wrote, “there is no way to predict what the future would have held for that child absent the abuse.”

The settlement, one of the largest deals the church has reached, covers 361 victims who claim they were abused over a period of 50 years by priests in a diocese that once included 57 counties across a large swath of Kentucky. Potter said a desire by the Covington Diocese to make reparations to the victims contributed to the settlement.

“Contrary to what might be the case in other dioceses, the court believes that this professed desire is genuine and played a significant role in the diocese's decision,” he wrote.

The Covington settlement may equal a 2003 Boston Archdiocese payout to 552 people, but it is less than a Diocese of Orange, Calif., agreement in 2004 to pay $100 million to resolve about 90 abuse claims.

The diocese originally had agreed to pay up to $120 million to abuse victims, saying it would pay out $40 million and its insurance companies would pay up to $80 million, which would have made it the largest church sex abuse settlement in the country.

Attorneys have said the original figure was based on an estimate that 700 to 800 victims would come forward, but only half that number made claims, cutting the need for insurance money.

In a statement, the Diocese of Covington said it is pleased with the settlement, believing that it can “promote healing both for the many victims who were abused and for the Diocese itself.”

The diocese, based in Covington just south of Cincinnati, sued its self-insurance plan to force it to contribute its share to the settlement fund. That case settled in January.

The victims will receive varying amounts, based on the severity and duration of the abuse they suffered. Some money also will be set aside to pay for counseling for abuse victims.

Victims will receive awards ranging from $5,000 to $450,000, and those in the highest category of abuse will be eligible to apply to a special fund for extraordinary claims.

Overall, the cost to U.S. dioceses from sexual predators in the priesthood has climbed past $1 billion since 1950, according to tallies by American bishops and an Associated Press review of known settlements. Researchers commissioned by the bishops found more than 11,500 abuse claims against priests over those five decades.

If the total amount needed in Covington exceeds $85 million, the payments will be “ratcheted down” to fit under the $85 million cap, Potter wrote.

The Boone County court has received confidential forms from 382 people saying they were abused by a priest or other employee of the Covington Diocese. Twenty-one of those claims were rejected, but the rest from that group will be able to submit claims.

The class-action settlement comes on top of 58 cases settled by the diocese with other people who had claims of abuse. The diocese paid $10.8 million to settle those cases, Potter wrote.

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