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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,'' he said.

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.

REPORT FLAWED?

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' assertions.

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 scandal.

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,'' she said.

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. 24.

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 and sisters.

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.''



Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
www.snapnetwork.org

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