MO- In “1st-ever” clergy "contract breach" suit, arbitrator awards $1.1 million
For immediate release: Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Statement by Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, Outreach Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 503 0003 cell, SNAPdorris@gmail.com)
In an unprecedented case, the only one like it (we believe) in the country, an arbitrator has ordered a controversial Missouri bishop to pay $1.1 million to 42 victims of clergy sex crimes because he broke his pledges to improve how he deals with abuse cases. It's a "breach of contract" case.
The disclosure came, perhaps accidentally, on Friday (June 20) in a virtually-unnoticed unsealed court filing by lawyers for Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, who wants the award nullified.
As best we can tell, there's never been a case like this in which victims have successfully held a bishop responsible in court for breaking the promises he made during a settlement. And the amount of this award is significant because it may will deter more Catholic officials from breaking the promises they make to victims.
In four sentences, here's what is happening:
1) In 2008, 47 victims settled child sex abuse and cover up lawsuits against Finn and his diocese. As part of that deal, they insisted that Finn commit to 19 non-economic child safety measures.
2) In October 2011, 44 of those victims formally charged that Finn broke many of those child safety measures, in part by keeping two credibly accused predator priests in ministry (Fr. Michael Tierney and Fr. Shawn Ratigan) and by not reporting suspicions and knowledge of child sex crimes promptly to law enforcement
In March, an arbitrator – harshly criticizing KC Catholic officials – awarded $1.1 million to the victims.
Here's why this is so ground-breaking and important.
We suspect that hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims have reached settlements with Catholic officials that include child protection commitments. We suspect that many of them have not been closely monitored.
We hope the arbitrator's award will prompt many victims and their attorneys to look hard at whether these pledges are being kept. If bishops are breaking their promises, we hope victims will file more suits like this.
We hope this will also prod more victims to push hard for child safety provisions when they're discussing settlement possibilities. Catholic officials would rather just write a check. But many victims find it more healing when they are able to force Catholic officials to formally pledge to take real abuse prevention steps.
We fear, however, that the arbitrator's outcome may make Catholic officials even more reluctant to agree to child safety measure when they settle abuse lawsuits.
Finn's a smart man with plenty of smart lawyers and public relations advisers. He voluntarily signed this contract with victims, pledging to take steps to stop abuse and cover ups. Finn broke that contract, repeatedly, rubbing even more salt into the already deep and still fresh wounds of dozens of struggling men and women who had already been sexually violated as kids by priests and re-victimized by callous Catholic officials.
If Finn had no intention of honoring his promises, he shouldn't have made them.
Victims' courage and compassion made this contract happen. Now, victims' courage and compassion are enforcing it. Again, we applaud these brave men and women who are pioneering a new approach to deterring wrongdoing by holding wrongdoers responsible for their wrongdoing, even if they are powerful prelates.
NOTE - Attorneys for the diocese include David Frye (firstname.lastname@example.org, 816-292-2000, 816-460-5726, 816-460-5732) and Mara Cohara (email@example.com, 816-292-2000, 816-460-5760, 816-460-5413). Finn's attorney is Spencer Brown (816-421-4000, http://www.deacylaw.com/ourattorneys/spencer-j-brown/)
Attorneys for the victims include Rebecca Randles (816 510 2704 cell, firstname.lastname@example.org), Sarah Brown (913 269 6226 cell, 816 931 9901, email@example.com), both of Kansas City MO and Gregg Meyers of St. Paul MN (843 324 1589 cell,·651 227 9990, firstname.lastname@example.org).
The arbitrator is Hollis Hanover of Kansas City, MO (816 942 2204, email@example.com). According to his website he spent 20 years as an insurance defense trial lawyer and ten years representing plaintiffs.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 25 years and have more than 20,000 members. 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)