The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Monday, September 14, 2009
Catholic whistleblower cases settles; Sex abuse victims respond
Statement by Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, Outreach Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 862 7688 home, 314 503 0003 cell)
Once again, Catholic officials are using their wealth to stop a potentially embarrassing trial that would potentially uncover secrets and corruption in the church hierarchy. Many times, just before he's forced to take the witness stand and has to face tough questions in open court, a bishop suddenly whips out the check book to preserve himself, his image, and the reputations of his colleagues and predecessors.
We suspect it was the diocese, and not the alleged whistleblower, who insisted on keeping the amount of the settlement secret. And if so, we suspect it was done because church officials don't want parishioners to know how much of their donations are going to keep the truth hidden.
This outcome - paying to make sure no one really knows what happened - is precisely what the Bridgeport bishop did with dozens of clergy sex cases and what he's doing now - fighting to keep records from child sex abuse and cover up cases covered up.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the nation’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 21 years and have more than 9,000 members across the country. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), Peter Isely (414-429-7259)
On trial's first day, diocese settles with Darien bookkeeper
Written by Susan Shultz - Monday, 14 September 2009 12:00
MONDAY — Despite statements from both attorneys last month that it was not expected, an out-of-court settlement was reached today between former St. John Roman Catholic Church bookkeeper Bethany D’Erario and the Diocese of Bridgeport — the same day that jury selection was supposed to start.
Claiming an environment of harassment, verbal abuse, innuendo and intimidation, D’Erario filed the civil lawsuit against the church and the diocese and Darien church in March 2008, citing whistleblower retaliation. It was D’Erario who, with another priest, hired a private investigator who uncovered that the late Rev. Michael Jude Fay was stealing from St. John Parish.
The settlement comes after several attempts by the diocese to get the case dropped, including an attempt for a summary judgment last month that was denied by a Waterbury judge.
Had the case gone to trial, Sherman said he planned to subpoena Bishop William E. Lori, head of the Diocese of Bridgeport, to testify.
The resolution was without any admission of wrongdoing or liability on the diocese's part, according to a statement released by Dr. Joeseph McAleer, spokesman for the diocese. Sherman confirmed the settlement on Monday and said the terms were confidential.
"Beth has decided to settle this matter in order to peacefully resolve this lawsuit. She is relieved to have closure to what was a difficult time in her life," Sherman said.
In the diocese's statement, McAleer said that St. John's "has experienced tremendous healing and growth and is once again a vibrant and spiritual community."
"In order to preserve that healing and growth, and to avoid a repetition of the pain caused by the former pastor's actions, the Diocese and the Parish have decided to resolve this matter. The Diocese and the Parish believe we treated Ms. D'Erario fairly at all times, and we deny her claims of retaliation and constructive discharge. Nevertheless, a resolution of this matter, without any admission of wrongdoing or liability, seems to be in the best interests of our parishioners," McAleer's statement said.
D’Erario and the Rev. Michael Madden hired a private investigator who uncovered that Father Fay, the former St. John pastor, was using church money to support a lavish lifestyle. Fay died in prison last month.
The diocese’s lawyers previously requested the judge, William Cremins of Waterbury State Superior Court, issue a summary judgment, which could have led to the lawsuit’s dismissal. Cremins denied that request on Friday, Aug. 21, and set the civil trial’s jury selection to begin today in Waterbury.
“We think that the motion for summary judgment should be granted because based on Mrs. D’Erario’s own testimony, the evidence shows that she was not forced to resign from her job and that she made the decision on her own to resign from her job,” Schwartz told The Darien Times last month.
“The evidence shows that at the time of her resignation, she had been offered a new employment contract with the same job title, duties, salary and benefits. Nevertheless, we respect the court’s decision on the motion for summary judgment and we look forward to the trial of this case.”
Sherman said last month that the judge ruled there “are issues” with how the diocese treated his client.
According to pre-trial deposition excerpts, D’Erario and Madden, who has since left the priesthood, answered questions about why they felt compelled to hire the private investigator: namely, they both said, it was to protect themselves from being implicated in the financial misconduct.
Both also said they hired the private investigator because Father Fay was permitted to return to his vacation home in Florida after being confronted by Bishop William E. Lori, head of the Diocese of Bridgeport, about his misconduct, and the lack of communication from the diocese after that confrontation.
“What will become very clear in this case is the diocese’s double standard. Father Fay was the criminal here, not Beth. Yet the diocese branded her with a scarlet letter as soon as she blew the whistle on the embezzlement,” Sherman previously told The Darien Times.
The diocese’s lawyer disputed that timeline.
“We’re confident that the testimony and the evidence presented at the trial will demonstrate that Mrs. D’Erario was not really a whistleblower because she knew about Father Fay’s misconduct and wrongful spending for several years before she ever reported it to diocese,” Schwartz told The Darien Times last month.
“And we also are confident that the evidence will demonstrate that once Father Madden and Mrs. D’Erario first reported Father Fay to the diocese, the diocese immediately began to investigate the allegations and promptly took steps to prevent any further financial abuses by Father Fay,” Sherman added. “The evidence will also show that the diocese reported the allegations for Father Fay to the U.S. attorney’s office before the private investigator, hired by Father Madden and Mrs. D’Erario, came forward to the Darien police.”
Last month, Sherman said: “This is not a case about Father Fay... It is a case about the way the diocese retaliated against its bookkeeper in the aftermath of the Father Fay scandal.”
Sherman added: “Beth is relieved that the court recognizes there is an issue to be tried here. At the very least she will get her day in court.”
Before reaching the settlement, Schwartz told The Darien Times that after the jury reviews “all the actual facts and actual events regarding this case, it will find that Mrs. D’Erario’s claims are without merit.”
The diocese’s lawyer also noted that it took D’Erario 19 months to file the lawsuit, that she wrote a well-wishing letter to Monsignor Frank McGrath, who replaced Father Fay as parish pastor, and to the parishioners. Schwartz added that she moved to North Carolina, then returned to Connecticut, got divorced and “became involved in a child custody battle with her husband. She then filed her lawsuit against the diocese — 19 months after she resigned.”
When asked if he thought the plaintiff was seeking money rather than justice, Schwartz said: “I think that would be fair conclusion to draw from the evidence. We’re very confident that when the jury reviews all the facts of the case and hears from all the witnesses, we’ll prevail.”
When asked if his client was seeking a financial settlement, Sherman said: “This is not all about money. This is about someone finally having the courage to stand up to an organization that lately considers itself above the law. Let them send their army of attorneys to court to fight for them. Whether they like it or not, we are getting our day in court. The truth regarding the diocese’s gross mismanagement and retaliation against an innocent bookkeeper is finally going to come out.
“Beth stuck her neck out for the parish and exposed Father Fay’s embezzlement. She and Mike Madden risked their jobs and reputations to save St. John. Their reward was two pink slips.”
D’Erario was seeking compensatory damages, general and consequential damages, punitive damages, as well as all costs related to filing the civil actions and medical benefits. The suit was seeking more than $15,000 in damages, the highest level in a civil suit.
Fay died in prison in late August of metastatic prostate cancer after serving 10 months of his 37 month sentence for theft.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests