Archdiocese of Miami Issues Abuse Report
Report says its insurers paid $9.3 million
to settle claims of sexual misconduct by priests, lay personnel
and religious brothers and sisters.
BY JAY WEAVER AND DONNA GEHRKE-WHITE
December 15, 2003
Insurers for the Archdiocese of Miami have paid $9.3 million
for settlement, legal and counseling costs to resolve sexual-abuse
claims against its priests and other employees since it began
insurance coverage in 1966, says a church report released
over the weekend.
The payments covered some of the archdiocese's 90 abuse claims
by minors through Dec. 1, but church officials could not say
exactly how many. Nor could they say how much the archdiocese
paid for such coverage or whether it also resolved any claims
from its own resources.
''No parish money is used for this,'' including donations,
archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said on Sunday.
The eight-page report, which included a letter of apology
from Archbishop John C. Favalora for the nationwide clergy
scandal, disclosed for the first time that 38 South Florida
priests were accused of sexual misconduct since the archdiocese
was founded in 1958.
The report stressed that the number represented less than
1 percent of 4,340 priests who have served the archdiocese
during the past 45 years.
But the archdiocese said it would not release the names of
the 38 priests or the dates of the alleged incidents.
One Florida lawyer who has battled the Catholic Church over
sexual-abuse complaints for two decades said he believes that
the numbers in the report are misleading.
The lawyer, Sheldon Stevens of Cocoa Beach, said the archdiocese
may have received abuse complaints against 38 priests since
1958, but that figure should be considered a minimum.
''Based upon the history of the behavior of victims, many
of the abuses are not reported,'' said Stevens, who has brought
50 complaints against the Catholic Church in Florida, including
three involving priests in the Archdiocese of Miami.
''The number reported by the archdiocese actually only represents
a percentage of the priests who engaged in that kind of conduct,''
The archdiocese's report also said its insurers paid a total
of $5.5 million to cover some of the 64 claims submitted for
alleged misconduct by priests only.
Of that total, $2.1 million was for actual settlements, according
to the report. The balance was for the archdiocese's legal
costs and psychological counseling for priests and victims.
One of the payouts was for a $500,000 settlement disbursed
in September to a teenager who accused an archdiocese priest
of molesting him on visits to his ailing grandmother in a
nursing home four years ago. It was the first settlement of
about 30 sexual-abuse lawsuits filed against the Miami archdiocese
since the nationwide clergy scandal broke last year.
Stevens said he believes that the archdiocese's report is
also flawed regarding the $2.1 million in insurance settlements.
He noted, for example, that he settled three sizable complaints
as part of confidential agreements in the late 1990s. Those
payouts -- along with the $500,000 settlement in the nursing-home
case -- totaled almost $2.1 million, he said.
''I don't consider their figures reliable,'' Stevens said.
``The involvement I've had in three cases that have been paid
out -- coupled with the most recent settlement -- would leave
a negligible amount to resolve the other 60 claims.''
Agosta, the spokeswoman, declined to comment about Stevens'
Since last year, the archdiocese has notified Miami-Dade
and Broward prosecutors of about 30 abuse complaints filed
as civil lawsuits. But prosecutors said all of the alleged
incidents against minors occurred long ago, and no criminal
charges could be filed because of a four-year statute of limitations.
Favalora said the new report -- inserted in the Dec. 11 issue
of The Florida Catholic, an archdiocesan newspaper, and circulated
throughout the 118 parishes in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe
counties -- was meant ''to help restore the bonds of trust
and communion'' as the Catholic Church grapples with the clergy
Favalora also apologized ``for any action or inaction on
my part that has lessened your sense of trust in the Catholic
Church and its ministers.''
Asked specifically what Favalora was apologizing for, Agosta
declined to elaborate. ''If there was something that he or
the archdiocese didn't do, then he's apologizing for it,''
Archdiocese leaders said the report includes information
for a survey by the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in
New York City, which was commissioned by the U.S. Conference
of Catholic Bishops to consolidate all priest sex-abuse complaints
since the 1950s. That survey is scheduled for release Feb.
The Miami archdiocese and 194 other dioceses also have provided
information for a nationwide audit on compliance with the
bishops' reforms -- from prompt reporting of clergy sex-abuse
complaints in criminal investigations to lay-committee reviews
of allegations to providing counseling for victims.
That audit, conducted by the Gavin Group of Winthrop, Mass.,
found in a visit in September that the Miami archdiocese was
in full compliance, according to the archdiocese's report.
The U.S. bishops' Office for Child and Youth Protection is
scheduled to release that audit on Jan. 6.
PRIESTS AND OTHERS
According to the archdiocese's report, 64 sexual-abuse claims
were submitted for local priests, 20 others for lay personnel
and six more for religious brothers and sisters.
The archdiocese's insurance program paid a total of $9.3
million -- with most of that covering claims for archdiocese
priests and the balance for lay personnel and religious brothers
In a question-and-answer section of the report, the archdiocese
stressed that no parish funds were used to pay settlements
or legal fees.
But the report asked: ``Even if insurance covers liability,
aren't we as Catholics paying the insurance premiums?''
''Yes,'' the report answered. 'Like families, individuals
and businesses, the archdiocese pays premiums for all kinds
of insurance such as workers' compensation, general liability,
property . . . and auto liability.''