9 Nov 2010

Archdiocese of New Orleans agrees to settle abuse suits but plaintiffs' lawyer "not thrilled" by dollar amount

The Daily Advertiser - Lafayette, LA October 21, 2009

New Orleans' Archdiocese settles abuse suits

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Archdiocese of New Orleans and Catholic Charities has agreed to pay more than $5 million to settle 20 lawsuits, most alleging sexual and physical mistreatment of children decades ago at homes for boys from troubled families.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond said the $5.182 million settlement, announced Tuesday, came after years of mediation and negotiation with the 20 victims and their families.

"We know that money doesn't heal wounds and it doesn't put back together a shattered heart, but it is important that the people with whom we settle know that we care about them and any other victim of sexual abuse," Aymond said.

He said the archdiocese decided to settle after various investigations showed the allegations to be credible.

"Obviously, anytime we talk about sexual abuse it's a sad day for the Church and sad circumstance, particularly when it's abuse by someone in the ministry because that person misused the trust and authority given to him.

"We felt it was important for us to take this initiative," he said. "This gives us the opportunity to apologize in the name of the Church, to offer assistance to the victims as well as offer care and compassion. Personally, I think pursuing this through the courts could be considered further abuse with them having to relive it all again before a judge and jury."

Aymond would not release the names of the victims or of the eight alleged abusers, whom he described as either priests, women religious or lay people who had been affiliated with Madonna Manor or Hope Haven. The two homes in Marrero, a New Orleans suburb, are now closed.

"The lawsuits relate back 40 or 50 years and all of the abusers are either deceased or very, very old," Aymond said. "I want to assure the community, though, that none of them are in active ministry.

"Our prayers go out to these victims, their families and all of those involved in this matter. I hope these mediations and negotiations will bring some peace and reconciliation to these victims and all those involved."

Aymond wouldn't discuss how the settlement would be distributed. He did say, however, that the money was accumulated through three sources: insurance proceeds, cash reserves and investment income from the sale of non-parish real estate sales.

"None of the funds area result of the implementation of the pastoral plan or closure of parishes," he said.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 did more than $280 million in damage to church property and in the past year Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. Henry, and St. Francis de Sales parishes were closed as part of a consolidation plan put in place by former Archbishop Alfred Hughes. Parishioners from Our Lady of Good Counsel and St. Henry sued the archdiocese and briefly took over churches to try to preserve them after they were closed. Police were finally called to remove them and two protesters were arrested.

Plaintiffs' attorney Roger Stetter would not confirm the dollar amount or the number of cases settled, saying instead that cases are still pending — he would not confirm how many — and that he was "not thrilled" by the settlement amounts.

He said many of his clients settled because they were in dire financial straits and that, while there's never enough money to give someone back his life or his childhood, there is an opportunity to provide some level of financial security to victims so they can go back to school or get therapy or counseling.

"We view this as just a beginning," he said.

Stetter said he wants to believe the new archbishop is sincere when he apologizes but he said he believes the church — overall — needs to do more to address past wrongs, prevent future abuse and to reach out to all those who were abused.

"There has to be more accountability," Stetter said.

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