The Diocese of Worcester yesterday became the first in Massachusetts to publicly account for its spending on clergy abuse cases, reporting that the sexual abuse of minors has cost the Central Massachusetts diocese and its insurers $2.1 million over five decades.
Bishop Daniel P. Reilly of Worcester decided to go public with the spending because the crisis in Boston has caused many Worcester Catholics to wonder about the financial health and management of their local church, according to diocesan spokesman Raymond L. Delisle.
”Many people have expressed concern over the implications for the Diocese of Worcester in being able to carry out its mission in light of the potential bankruptcy filing by the Archdiocese of Boston and the level of settlements being discussed in the media,” the Worcester diocese’s office of fiscal affairs, headed by Monsignor Edmond T. Tinsley, said in a financial report issued yesterday.
”This special report is intended to make clear the situation in the Diocese of Worcester, which is uniquely different from that of the Archdiocese of Boston, and assure sound fiscal stewardship for carrying on our diocesan responsibilities to the communities in which we live and pray.”
The report did not indicate how many local priests abused minors, or how many cases it had settled. But, in response to a question, Delisle said, ”Over the years, a variety of settlements were made involving nine priests. None of them are in active ministry. There were no court-imposed `gag orders’ involved, only mutually agreed upon confidentiality agreements involving legal representation for both sides. We have never brought a case against anyone who has disregarded that agreement in subsequent years.”
In revealing how much money it has spent, and where the money has come from, the Worcester diocese has joined a small but growing number of dioceses around the nation, most prominently the Archdiocese of Baltimore, that have responded to the public clamor over sexual abuse by attempting a full and open financial accounting.
The Archdiocese of Boston has not taken a similar step, and spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey said, ”I am not aware of any plans to release the amount of settlement money spent in the past.”
The dioceses of Fall River and Springfield have also not disclosed the amounts they have spent in the past.
The Worcester diocese said that since 1950, when the diocese was established, it has paid $764,833 to settle lawsuits involving sexual abuse of minors, and its insurance companies have paid $1,384,000. The church’s share of the money came from a bishop’s discretionary fund, raised largely from priests, and diocesan savings from interest and dividends, the church said.
The Worcester diocese still faces ”fewer than two dozen” lawsuits in sex abuse cases, according to Delisle. The church said it has not used parish funds, its annual Bishop’s Fund, or its Forward in Faith capital campaign proceeds to pay for abuse case settlements.
The Worcester diocese, which is contained within Worcester County, is home to about 350,000 Catholics, compared with about 2 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston.
The disclosure of spending on sex abuse cases came as part of the diocese’s annual release of its financial statement. Reilly said that last year the diocese ran a deficit, spending $33 million, $2 million more than it took in.
”It is important to note that our operational loss this fiscal year was not due in any way to the settlement of any civil suit against the diocese for the sexual abuse of a minor,” Reilly said. ”We did not pay out any money for any settlement. We did pay legal counsel fees of $21,312 to respond to the suits filed against the diocese and the bishop. We also spent $28,150 to provide treatment services to those alleging abuse and to establish our Office for Healing and Prevention.”
The disclosure is being welcomed by Worcester Catholics as a first move toward coming clean about the past.
”This is significant it’s a step, but a relatively small step without detailing what the individual cases were,” said David J. O’Brien, a historian at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. ”If they would do this in each diocese, that would be helpful, because it would give us some sense of the extent of the problem, and how much each diocese has spent.
”We’re looking for more financial accountability, so the more steps that are taken like this, the better.”
Mary Keville, a leader of the lay group Voice of the Faithful in the Worcester diocese, also welcomed the financial report.
”It’s encouraging that the bishop is willing to provide this special report, and I think it’s a good first step in providing full accountability for the cost of the sexual abuse problem in the diocese,” said Keville, who lives in Harvard. ”However, the report is very vague, in that it doesn’t provide details about what years this took place, or the numbers of cases, and it begs that those questions be answered.
”Catholics in the pews are looking for more detail than this.”
Keville said she is heartened by Reilly’s explanation of how settlements were paid for, saying that ”it should provide some comfort to people in the pews that their weekly contributions have not been used to pay for this scandal.”
Catholic dioceses are under pressure from a number of groups to fully disclose their past handling of sex abuse cases. One group, Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities Inc., last June called on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to audit all dioceses to determine how much had been spent to settle sex abuse cases and treat priests and victims, and to account for where the money had come from.
”In the absence of such disclosure, donor uncertainty will increase,” said FADICA president Francis J. Butler. ”Many will begin to wonder whether future donations intended for the church’s work, might instead be diverted to settle claims.”
In New England, the diocese of Burlington, Vt., has said it spent $2.5 million on sexual abuse cases since 1990, and the diocese of Manchester, N.H., said it has spent $7.7 million to settle cases since 1987. Last fall, the Diocese of Providence agreed to spend $13.5 million to settle lawsuits alleging abuse by 11 priests and a nun.
The Archdiocese of Boston in September agreed to pay $10 million to settle 84 lawsuits against defrocked priest John J. Geoghan and church officials.
The Boston church is now trying to settle lawsuits brought by more than 500 claimants, and has not disclosed how much it has previously spent to settle other cases.