Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Settlement tops $79 million in diocese suit

About 240 people have now been awarded more than $79 million in a class-action settlement between victims of sexual abuse at the hands of church officials and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington in Northern Kentucky.

Two special masters in the case reviewed claims from 400 people.

A statement Monday from plaintiffs' attorney Stan Chesley said the special masters approved 243 and rejected 157 claims, with 100 of those rejections being appealed to a judge.

The settlement, reached in February 2006, is between the Covington Diocese and more than 350 people who said they were abused by priests and diocese employees since the 1950s in 57 counties across a large swath of Kentucky.

Under the terms of the class-action settlement, victims were to receive $5,000 to $1 million based on the severity and duration of the abuse they suffered. Some money has also been set aside to pay for counseling for abuse victims.

The special masters, William Burleigh, chairman of the board of the E.W. Scripps Co., and Thomas D. Lambros of Ashtabula, Ohio, former chief judge in the Northern District of Ohio, awarded $62,881,500 to most members of the class-action case.

They awarded $16,200,000 in Extraordinary Injury Funds to 78 people considered to have faced extreme abuse, the statements said. Those awards have not been paid yet.

The settlement required 5 percent of the total settlement be set aside for a counseling fund, which has paid for and continues to pay for mental health treatment of victims, Chesley said. Another 5 percent was set aside to pay claims for victims born after Oct. 21, 1980.

Chesley said there are sufficient funds to pay the awards and counseling.

Covington Bishop Roger Foys met with abuse victims once the case was settled. As of July, Foys had met with 125 victims, said Tim Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the Covington Diocese.

Foys was unavailable for comment on Monday. Fitzgerald said Foys has continued to meet with victims at their request.

"I presume he's continuing to do that," Fitzgerald said.

The special masters will issue a final report on the settlement after the last checks have been mailed, Chesley said.

Covington is far smaller than Boston, the nation's fourth-largest diocese with about 2.1 million parishioners. The Boston Archdiocese settled two cases in 2002 and 2003 for a total of $95 million, one of the largest amounts paid by a diocese to settle sexual abuse allegations.

Covington is just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. The Covington diocese now spans 14 counties and has 89,000 parishioners.

The lawsuit also covers some Kentucky counties that were part of the diocese until 1988, when a new diocese in Lexington formed.
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