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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Archdiocese to pay total of $1.3 million to 18 who say they were abused by priests

BY RICHARD SZCZEPANOWSKI

Catholic Standard

The Archdiocese of Washington will make a one-time payment to 18 individuals who say they were sexually abused by priests in the archdiocese to pay for counseling and other services.

A total of $1.3 million will be divided among the accusers. Normally, the archdiocese will pay for counseling, therapy and other costs related to an individual's accusation of sexual abuse. With this action, the accusers will receive a one-time payment in lieu of any future financial assistance.

The money is not a lawsuit settlement or payment for damages, said Susan Gibbs, a spokesperson for the archdiocese.

"This is not payment for damages nor the result of legal action - there were no lawsuits - but funds to pay for healing," she said. "In fact, two of the men previously sued us and lost, at least one on the merits of the case."

Gibbs said the money given to the individuals will be used to pay for any counseling, therapy or other needs they may seek.

"The archdiocese provides the cost of counseling, therapy and other costs (related to alegations of abuse). We've been doing that for years," she said. "Now what we've done is rather than continue paying and reimbursing them for certain costs, we will give them the money so they can pay (for these costs) themselves."

Archbishop Donald Wuerl, in a letter to priests announcing the action, said that the payments are "in lieu of future financial support for these individuals."

He also noted that "the funds are from insurance reserves; no funds have or will come from the archdiocese's operating funds, Archbishop's Appeal, Forward in Faith or parishes."

According to Gibbs, the individuals who will receive the money "had come forward over a number of years, with allegations dating to 24 to 44 years ago and involving eight priests and a seminarian of another diocese."

Those former priests include Thomas Schaeffer, Alphonsus Smith, Edward Hartel, Edward Pritchard, James Finan, Paul Lavin, Robert Petrella, Raymond Callahan and Wayland Brown of Savannah. Gibbs said all of the men have been out of ministry for a number of years, all allegations were reported to the authorities and eight of the nine men have been criminally prosecuted.

The Archdiocese of Washington has had a written child protection policy since 1986. This policy focuses on prevention, with mandated FBI criminal background checks for employees, volunteers and clergy who have substantial contact with children. The policy also focuse on education, outreach to assist with healing, and mandated reporting to civil authorities.

An independent Child Protection Advisory Board oversees and monitors child protection efforts, while a Case Review Board is available to advise the archbishop in the event of an allegation against a clergy member.

The policy and other information, including how to report an allegation, are online at www.adw.org. Anyone who has experienced harm by a member of the clergy or other Church worker should call the authorities and the Archdiocesan director of child protection services at 301-853-5328.

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