Saturday, February 24, 2007

CSA Victims Want More Than A Cheque From Church (USA)

In life, Neal and Jean Evans were very close to their parish priest.

In death, less than 20 feet of gently sloping grass separated their graves from his in the Roman Catholic section of Forest Lawn cemetery, just outside of Asheville, N.C.

The Evanses never realized that the priest, William J. Kuder, had serially molested three of their sons beginning when each turned 9.

But the sons certainly knew; they found the sight of his tombstone so painful that for years they avoided visiting the cemetery altogether.

On Feb. 6, as part of a legal settlement with the Evans brothers, the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh unearthed the priest's remains and moved them to another cemetery five miles away.

"It was like desecrating my parents to have him there," said Jim Evans, 61, a general contractor in Greensboro, N.C. "Because they never knew in life. But you know that in the hereafter, they knew."

Across the country, victims of sexual abuse by priests are becoming more assertive in demanding compensation other than money. Church officials, reeling from an estimated $1.5 billion in settlements and other costs related to the sex abuse scandal, are often willing to oblige.

"The most valuable benefit from these lawsuits for the victims is that the world validates that it happened, and it wasn't their fault," said Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at Cardozo School of Law in New York who has advised victims. "That's usually more important to them than money, and they're becoming more innovative about getting it."

In January, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., reached a settlement with more than 100 victims that calls for payments of at least $48 million. But their attorney, Tim Kosnoff, said the victims had insisted that the first order of business was a list of nonfinancial items.

"We said: 'We're not going to negotiate any number with you, ever, unless you agree to these non-monetary demands. And we wrote them in such a way that they were quite unusual, revolutionary, drastic by Catholic Church standards," Kosnoff said.

Among the conditions agreed to by Skylstad is that each of the Spokane victims will be given a chance to speak publicly in the parish where he or she was abused. If they prefer, victims can publish the stories of their abuse in the diocesan newspaper.

Skylstad, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, also will send a letter of apology to each victim and "will publicly support a complete elimination of all criminal statutes of limitation for child sexual abuse," according to the settlement, which is under review by a bankruptcy court because the diocese has filed for Chapter 11 protection.

One of the Spokane victims, Mark Mains, 44, said he is eager to speak in his old parish, particularly because of a recent experience addressing a gathering of Spokane Catholics.

After Skylstad made some nostalgic remarks about a retreat center that the diocese may sell to pay claims, Mains told the group that he, too, has strong memories of the place.



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