The Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas has been ordered to pay $119 million in damages to a group of former altar boys who say they were sexually abused over a 15-year period by a priest.
It is believed to be the largest penalty ever imposed on the Catholic church in a sex abuse case.
“It dwarfs anything else we’ve every heard of,” said Bill Ryan, spokesman for the U.S. Catholic Conference.
Lawyers for the altar boys contended diocesan officials ignored reports that the Rev. Rudolph Kos was molesting them, and conspired to cover up the incidents.
“I hope they wake up the pope tonight with this,” plaintiffs’ attorney Sylvia Demarest said.
The diocese did not dispute the molestation claims but denied it was negligent or engaged in a cover-up. After the verdict, Bishop Charles Grahmann said the diocese likely would appeal.
The state District Court jury awarded about $101 million in compensatory damages and $18 million in punitive damages to 10 men who say Kos molested them, as well as to the family of another alleged victim who committed suicide in 1992.
The victims, who range in age from 18 to their early 30s, hugged each other after the verdicts were read.
Church officials had declined an out-of-court settlement. After the verdict in which jurors determined that the church inflicted emotional distress on the plaintiffs and committed fraud one church official, Monsignor John Bell, said, “This whole process has been significantly humbling.”
Kos, 52, was suspended from the priesthood in 1992. He now lives in San Diego and is awaiting trial on charges of sexual contact with one child and indecency with another. He did not attend the trial.
In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Kos denied some of the charges against him and refused to discuss others. He said he couldn’t answer the question of “which ones I had sex with” and denied even knowing two of the plaintiffs.
The former altar boys alleged that the abuse occurred between 1977 and 1992, first while Kos was a seminarian at Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas and later while he served at three Dallas area churches.
The abuse, which included masturbation and oral sex, was allegedly inflicted on boys as young as 9. Kos’ accusers say he plied them with sedatives, alcohol and marijuana.
Among the alleged victims was Jay Lemberger, who committed suicide at the age of 20.
“My son was murdered by the Dallas diocese, because they let Rudy Kos into their regime, and they let him get away with this abuse,” said Pat Lemberger, Jay Lemberger’s father.
Tom Economus, head of a Chicago-based support group for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, said the previous largest penalty assessed against the Catholic church in a sexual abuse case was $13 million levied last year in Florida.