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More Dioceses Settling Sex-Abuse Suits

Sep 21, 2003 | Seattle Times

When the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle announced earlier this month that it had reached a $7.87 million settlement with 15 men claiming they'd been molested as boys by the Rev. James McGreal, it joined a growing number of dioceses across the country settling accusations of past sex abuse by priests.

Almost two years after unsealed court documents in Boston triggered an onslaught of media coverage and lawsuits, "we're at the beginning stages" of seeing more settlements, said David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

On Thursday, the Spokane Diocese announced a $50,000 settlement with a man who claimed the Rev. James O'Malley, now retired and living in Ireland, sexually abused him 25 to 30 years ago. The settlement ends one of 10 lawsuits pending against the diocese.

Among other recent settlements, according to news accounts:

• Only two days before the big Seattle settlement, the Boston Archdiocese, epicenter of the scandal, agreed to pay $85 million to 552 accusers. Last September, the archdiocese had also said it would pay $10 million to 86 victims of former priest John Geoghan.

• In June, the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., agreed to pay $25.7 million to 243 plaintiffs.

• In May, the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., said it would pay $6.5 million to 61 people, for a reported total of $15.5 million to settle 176 cases.

• And in January, the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., agreed to pay $800,000 to 10 plaintiffs.

At the same time, Clohessy said, "we're seeing a small but perceptible trend toward trial no matter what. There's a small but growing number of survivors who say: I want the truth to come out. Period."

That's the case in Seattle, where no settlement was reached with a 16th McGreal accuser who wants to go to trial.

McGreal served in at least 10 archdiocesan parishes and two hospitals between 1948 and 1988. His case is significant because he is considered the archdiocese's most serious offender, with the greatest number of accusers.

Seattle Archdiocese officials say they have settled about half of some 30 clergy-abuse suits filed since January 2002 and hope to settle the other 15 within the next year.

The most recent were filed this month, two against the Rev. John Forrester, believed to be deceased, accusing him of molesting two boys in the mid-1970s when he was at All Saints Church in Puyallup. Four other such suits were filed against him last year.

One of the other recent suits was filed last week against the Rev. Gerald Moffat, most recently pastor at St. Hubert Church in Langley, Whidbey Island, who was placed on administrative leave last year when the archdiocese received a complaint. The suit accuses Moffat of molesting a 12-year-old altar boy serving at St. James Cathedral in the 1950s.

Moffat was accused earlier of sexual abuse by Jeff Alfieri, a Seattle man who committed suicide early this year. Alfieri had claimed in a lawsuit that Moffat molested him in the 1970s, when Moffat was assigned to Holy Family Church in Kirkland. Moffat's attorney had said earlier that the priest denies that allegation.

Church officials and Moffat's attorney declined to comment on the three recently filed suits.

A suit against the Rev. Patrick O'Neill was dismissed earlier this year. Plaintiff Gwen Caggiano said she withdrew the case after the Seattle Archdiocese filed a counterclaim against her that "could cost me a whole lot of money."

Caggiano said her claim, that O'Neill had sexually abused her over the course of three years in the early 1960s when she attended St. Charles Borromeo school and church in Tacoma had "absolutely happened. Nobody in their right minds would go through this if it didn't."

O'Neill, believed to be retired and living in Arizona, could not be reached for comment. But Dennis O'Leary, an archdiocese spokesman, said "Father O'Neill believes her allegations of sexual abuse as a minor are totally without merit and he adamantly denies them."

O'Neill's case is one of 13 being evaluated by the archdiocese's review board, which advises Archbishop Alexander Brunett on what to do about local accused priests.


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