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Oregon Archdiocese Settles Sex-Abuse Case

Nov 1, 2000 | The Christian Century Twenty-three former altar boys have settled their sexual-abuse lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Portland and a suspended priest in one of the nation's largest molestation cases involving the Roman Catholic Church.

The case of suspended priest Maurice Grammond, now 80, resulted in confidential financial settlements, an apology and the promise of church reforms. The men had asked for $44 million. While the church's official statement distances itself from the abuse of a generation ago, the archdiocese invited a new task force to examine its policies on sex-abuse complaints.

"This ends a half-century of fear and secrecy and silence and shame that have protected Father Grammond," said plaintiffs' lawyer David Slader at a press conference on October 10 in the Multnomah County courthouse. Grammond is in a home for Alzheimer's patients. He retired for health reasons in 1986, and was quietly stripped of all priestly duties in 1991 after a resident of Seaside, Oregon, said Grammond abused him as a boy. That suspension will be formalized in writing as part of the settlement.

The 25 plaintiffs--two have not settled their lawsuits--accused Grammond of molestation while they were boys. The alleged incidents span from 1950, when Grammond was ordained, into the 1970s, and occurred at an orphanage and parishes in Portland and churches in Oakridge and Seaside.

"The incidents of abuse alleged in this case date from 25 to 50 years ago," Dennis O'Donovan, vicar general of the archdiocese, said at the press conference. "For a number of years, policies and practices have been in place in the archdiocese to guard against similar incidents."

Archbishop John G. Vlazny, head of the archdiocese that includes more than half of the western part of the state, was absent from the press conference. An apology from Vlazny was read on October 15 at every parish during mass.

Until December, the archdiocese had seen relatively few sex-abuse cases involving priests. Every one of the country's 188 Catholic dioceses has faced a sex-abuse lawsuit, some fighting a dozen or more simultaneously. Attorney Jeff Anderson of Minneapolis has sued over half of those dioceses. He called the Grammond settlement historic. "It's a giant leap farther than any place else I've ever been--any archdiocese anywhere in the U.S. of A.," he said.

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