Church Settlement Anniversary Approaching

by Rick Howlett on March 7, 2008

It has been nearly five years since the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville settled more than 240 lawsuits filed by people who were sexually abused by priests or church workers when they were children. Some of the accusations dated back more than 50 years.

WFPL’s Rick Howlett takes a look at what the church and victims’ advocates are doing to help those who were molested, and how the 200,000 member archdiocese is working to keep it from happening again.

In June of 2003, the archdiocese agreed to pay $25.7 million to settle the sex abuse lawsuits, but the agreement was accompanied by what many victims were seeking in the first place, an official apology from then-Archbishop Thomas Kelly and a pledge to prevent future abuse.

Kelly’s apology echoed what he said during a speech four months earlier to the Louisville Rotary Club.

“I will meet one-on-one with every victim of abuse who desires such a meeting,” Kelly said, ” I will ask them to forgive me and the church for any of our failings.”

Kelly, who had been archbishop for just over 20 years when the scandal erupted, resisted calls for his resignation, saying he wanted to stay on the job and see the crisis through. He came under pressure after it was revealed that some priests accused of abuse had been allowed to continue working around children.

Kelly stepped down last year after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Brian Reynolds is the archdiocese chancellor and chief administrative officer who represented the church in the settlement negotiations. He says some victims did take Kelly up on his offer to meet with them, and others took part in counseling sessions offered by the church. But there has been equal focus on education and prevention. Reynolds says since 2003, more than 15-thousand people have attended workshops dealing with child sex abuse, its warning signs, and proper behavior for church employees and volunteers.

” When the victims have heard about those workshops, a number have attended them, not announcing that they’re a victim, but to see what goes on. And many of them have contacted us and said, ‘We see in action now what we had hoped would happen years ago to prevent this in the first place, but we see at least now it’s happening,'” Reynolds said.

Some victims advocates say, however, that the Catholic church, in Louisville and elsewhere, could do more.

One of them is David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

“Every single bishop has a moral duty to go to every single parish, where proven admitted and credibly accused predators have worked, and to stand in the pulpit to beg other witnesses to come forward, get help and call the police,” Clohessy said.Clohessy, who as a child was molested by his parish priest in Missouri, says the church also needs to provide a better accounting of where abusive clergy are living and working.

Ann Brentwood, a regional volunteer counselor for SNAP who has been working with victims in the Louisville area, believes there are a lot more abuse survivors who are hesitant to speak up.

“They have terrific, terrific concern about their children knowing and how are their children going to feel about them,” she said. “If they are in business, they don’t want anybody in the business world to know and withhold their business services, whatever they might be.”

Brian Reynolds says the church now has a victim assistance coordinator available to help abuse survivors, and a more stringent screening process for everyone who works around children. He says the new Louisville archbishop, Joseph Kurtz, has visited 40 of the 120 parishes in the archdiocese since he assumed his new post in August.

As for the settlement’s economic impact on the archdiocese, Reynolds says it forced the church to lay off some workers and eliminate some programs. The archdiocese also has embarked on a restructuring plan, although Reynolds says that’s’ more the result of a population shift than fallout from the settlement.

Meanwhile, Louisville attorney William McMurry, who represented many of the abuse victims in the 2003 settlement, is continuing his bid to hold the Vatican legally responsible for the decades of sex abuse in the U.S. A hearing on that case is set for later this month before a federal appeals court.

Listen to the story.

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