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St. Louis Archdiocese Begins Talk of Resolving Abuse Suits

Nov 10, 2003 | St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis has quietly begun talks to resolve sexual abuse suits pending against it because of alleged assaults by priests even though the church may have no legal liability to pay damages to potential victims.

Bishop Joseph Naumann touched briefly on the behind-the-scenes efforts at a news conference last week.

Naumann is the Archdiocesan Administrator until a successor to former Archbishop Justin Rigali is appointed. Naumann said he hoped to have a mediation process in place as early as next month.

After the news conference, Bernard Huger, an attorney for the archdiocese, confirmed that preliminary talks about mediation have begun with attorneys Patrick Noaker and Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., and Kenneth Chakes and Susan Carlson of St. Louis.

Other archdioceses have used mediation to settle their own cases, most notably the Boston Archdiocese which agreed in September to pay $85 million to settle abuse claims.

The lawyers involved in the preliminary talks have been in the forefront of filing civil suits against the Rev. Michael McGrath and other priests, accusing them of sexually molesting young men and women.

"Even if the statute of limitations has run or there are other legal defenses, we are willing to pay for counseling," Naumann said.

For plaintiffs to collect damages from the church in a suit, they would have to prove first the abuse took place, and then prove that church officials knew about the misconduct and deliberately covered it up.

McGrath is the defendant in 14 suits, two of which were filed Tuesday. Those filings prompted a news conference by Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and a follow-up press conference by Naumann.

The two men say they were sexually abused repeatedly by McGrath between 1984 and 1986 while he was assigned to St. Simon the Apostle Catholic Church in Concord Village.

In the suits in St. Louis Circuit Court, the alleged victims were identified only as John Doe IT and John Doe BB.

David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP, said the men were 12 and 13 when the abuse began. He said McGrath would abuse them in his van while he took them out for ice cream or to a ball game.

SNAP asked the archdiocese to include in church bulletins in the parishes where McGrath had served a request that abuse victims notify either the circuit attorney in St. Louis or the prosecuting attorney in St. Louis County.

Naumann denied the request saying that parishioners at those churches were already aware of the allegations contained in the suits against McGrath.

McGrath, 57, lives in Richmond Heights, Mo. He was removed from active duty as a priest in 1997. He has never been charged with a crime.

Church officials say they were aware of only one allegation against him: in 1993, a man said McGrath had fondled him 20 years earlier, when McGrath was a seminarian. McGrath said he didn't recall the incident.

In June, Allen Klump filed a wrongful death suit against McGrath, the archdiocese and Rigali. Klump alleged his son, Christopher, 30, took a fatal dose of cocaine last spring after he learned it was too late under the statute of limitations to bring criminal charges against McGrath.


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