MO--Jesuits fail to keep the predator priest out of public ministry
For immediate release: Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016
Two women sued the ex-president of St. Louis University because he abused them. Both cases have just settled (one for $200,000, the other for $82,000).
And one of the cases is only the second of its type anywhere, as best we can tell, and could open the door to more cases against Catholic officials. It charges that Jesuits violated a contract they made with the victim to keep the predator priest out of public ministry.
We applaud both of them for their courage, their persistence and their concern for others who may be hurt or betrayed by Jesuits.
These highly unusual abuse and breach of contract lawsuits are very encouraging. We hope and believe other victims will start using this tactic. (More on this below.)
--The first victim, “Jane Doe MB”
In this just-settled “breach” case, a New York woman was sexually violated by Fr. Daniel O’Connell (then a professor, later the president of SLU), who is believed to still be living in St. Louis. According to the New York Times, Fr. O’Connell “was accused of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old college student in 1983.” In 2003, his Jesuit supervisors “found the accusation credible,” paid her $181,000 settlement and agreed to remove O'Connell “from a teaching post at another Jesuit institution” and bar him “from public ministry” or any activity in which he could develop a relationship with a woman.
In 2010, this woman filed a suit accusing O’Connell’s Jesuit supervisors of breaking that promise by letting him teach in Oklahoma, engage in public ministry in Germany, and speak at symposia and seminars at several universities.
That suit has just settled out of court for $82,000. It was being handled by Judge Phil Heagney. A copy of the suit is here: http://www.rmblawyers.com/Amended%20Petition.pdf
--The second victim, "Jane Doe 929"
While “a very popular” SLU professor at SLU, Fr. O’Connell “used his position to sexually abuse a female undergraduate during counseling sessions,” according to the Riverfront Times. In 2012, she filed suit and just agreed to settle for $200,000.
Neither of the women lives in St. Louis. Both are identified only by pseudonyms. O'Connell was SLU president from 1974 to 1978. He is believed to still be living in St. Louis.
Here's why these “breach of contract” cases are 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 these settlements 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.
-- 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 these settlements 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 break their agreements and contracts with victims, they rub even more salt into the already deep and still fresh wounds of struggling men and women who had already been sexually violated by priests and re-victimized by callous Catholic officials.
Victims' courage and compassion made these contracts happen. Now, victims' courage and compassion are enforcing it. Again, we applaud these brave victims who are pioneering a new approach to deterring wrongdoing by holding wrongdoers responsible for their wrongdoing, even if they are powerful prelates.
We beg the Jesuits, SLU’s president and board and Archbishop Robert Carlson to
-- use their vast resources to aggressively seek out others who have seen, suspected or suffered abuse or exploitation by Fr. O’Connell or cover ups at SLU, and beg them to call law enforcement and other independent sources of help, and
-- turn over everything they have, know and learn about Fr. O’Connell’s crimes and SLU’s cover ups to law enforcement and share that information with the public, parishioners, students, staff and alums.
MORE DETAILS ON THE KC “BREACH” SETTLEMENT
In the FIRST “breach of contract” case, an arbitrator ordered then-Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn to pay $1.1 million to 40+ victims of clergy sex crimes because he broke his pledges to improve how he deals with abuse cases.
As best we can tell, there are no other cases like this in which victims have successfully held Catholic officials responsible in court for breaking the promises they made during settlements. These are significant because they may will deter more Catholic officials from breaking the promises they make to victims.
In four sentences, here's what happened in that KC case:
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 of 2014, an arbitrator – harshly criticizing KC Catholic officials – awarded $1.1 million to the victims.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has 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)
Jesuits to Pay $281K to Settle Lawsuits Against Former SLU President Daniel O'Connell
Posted By Danny Wicentowski on Wed, Jan 6, 2016 at 6:00 am
In the late 1960s, while Daniel O'Connell was a "very popular" professor at Saint Louis University, a female undergraduate alleges that he used his position to sexually abuse her during counseling sessions. Years later, in 2012, the woman filed a lawsuit claiming that O'Connell held her on his lap while he masturbated and told her that sex would bring her closer to God.
O'Connell went on to become SLU president from 1974 to 1978, but the allegations of abuse . . .