Abuse Victims Demand More Than a Check From the Church
By Alan Cooperman - Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 24, 2007
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
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
"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.
"I said I remember being on a confirmation retreat there,
and the night of that retreat Father Patrick O'Donnell crawled into
my sleeping bag and raped me," Mains said. "You could
practically hear their jaws drop."
"One of the most powerful experiences I've had," he continued,
"was to stand up in front of those people who . . . felt we
were trying to take their churches and property away. It was amazing
to me how their anger dissipated when we told them what happened
Victims' attorneys say one of the most common demands is a personal
apology, usually from a bishop. Before the Archdiocese of Washington
settled with 16 victims in December, it promised each of them a
private meeting with either Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick or his
successor, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl.
In Davenport, Iowa, victims got an apology from Bishop William
E. Franklin and a monument in front of the diocese's headquarters.
It consists of an old-fashioned stone for milling flour, along with
a quotation from Jesus: ". . . if anyone causes one of these
little ones who trust in me to lose faith, it would be better for
that person to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied
around the neck."
Lawyer Craig A. Levien, who negotiated on behalf of 37 Davenport
victims, said the diocese readily agreed to the monument but "flatly
said no" to victims' demands for its files on abusers. Other
lawyers said they have met similar resistance around the country.
Mark Chopko, general counsel for the bishops conference, said that
dioceses "have to protect employees' privacy, just like any
other employer." But he said non-monetary compensation has
become routine since 2001, when two California dioceses agreed to
set up a toll-free hotline as part of a $5.2 million settlement
with Ryan DiMaria, who had been abused by his school principal.
"It's a human response to a human problem," Chopko said.
In North Carolina, the Evans brothers did not know what to expect
when they broached the idea of exhuming a priest.
But the Diocese of Raleigh, which also agreed to pay the three
brothers $250,000 each, took their request seriously. "It was
felt that if this was part of what was needed for the brothers to
be healed, then it would be carried forth," said spokesman
The main stumbling block, Morock added, was that Kuder died so
long ago -- 1960 -- that it took months to track down his next of
kin and obtain permission for the move.
W. Neal Evans, 64, the oldest of the brothers, said Kuder was a
frequent visitor in their home in the 1950s. Their father was chairman
of the parish council at Kuder's church, St. Joan of Arc, and was
pleased when the priest took an interest in the boys, he recalled.
Although the abuse was "horrific" and continued from
the time each boy was 9 until 13, Neal Evans said, Kuder used the
confessional to keep it secret. Twisting Catholic doctrine, which
provides that priests may not reveal what is said in a confession,
the priest told the boys that anything they confessed, they had
to keep secret.
"Kuder was a master," Evans said. "He would rape
us, and then he would hurry us off to another priest to confess.
. . . What I think about now is, how come none of those other guys
ever said, 'Tell your parents!' "
Last weekend, Neal, Jim and Bob Evans, accompanied by their wives,
visited the graves of their mother, who died in 1976, and father,
who died in 1988, for the first time in many years.
They put their arms around one another, but they did not cry.
"It was a joyous occasion," Neal said.