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  Home :: 2007 September :: Diocese has paid $328,068 on abuse claims

Over the past two years, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno has paid$328,068 to at least seven local residents who say they were sexuallyabused by Reno priests, and officials are reviewing three additionalclaims recently reported to the church.

But several of thevictims say that, while church workers, including Chancellor BrotherMatthew Cunningham, were kind and compassionate toward them, thediocese and its lawyers treated them harshly through the interview andnegotiation process.

"When it came to the issue of money, thelawyers drove down the settlement as far as they possibly could," saidMarie "Terry" LaTourrette Moisan, who recently settled her case withthe diocese over claims that she was molested in the 1960s by EugeneBraun, the former pastor of St. Therese Church of the Little Flower.

"Myfeeling was they thought: 'Let's just get rid of this -- let's minimizeour exposure financially, legally and publicly.'" said Moisan, 56, whonow lives in Oregon. "They could have made it easier by not making itinto a business deal."

Another victim, who recently settled overclaims that he was molested by the late Harold Vieages at the St.Theresa's Elementary School in Carson City, agreed, said his lawyer,Tom Drendel.

"He feels like his church abandoned him," Drendelsaid of the man, now 51. "There was such distrust that he will never beable to re-enter his faith."

"The diocese has never admittedliability for what occurred," Drendel added. "That in itself isunsatisfactory. For some victims, just an acknowledgment by the churchof what the victims suffered would go a long way in their healing."

InMoisan's case, Cunningham said talks between the diocese and the victimand her lawyers were conducted through a third-party mediator, whosought to reach a "mutually acceptable resolution of the claim."

Beyond that, he said he couldn't comment on the settlement.

"Ispoke briefly with the victim from Oregon some months ago," Cunninghamsaid. "I was glad to have the opportunity to meet with her andpersonally apologize to her on behalf of Bishop Randolph Calvo for whatshe has suffered."

In the Vieages case, Cunningham has said thediocese responded to the allegations in accordance with the bishop'scharter on protecting children: He met with the man, filed a policereport and assigned a victim's advocate to work with the man.

Vieages died in 2004, several months before the allegations were made.

Braun, reached Friday at his home in Las Vegas, declined to talk about Moisan's claims.

"I have no comment on anything," he said.

New negotiations

Therecently settled cases, which came about after an extensive report in2005 by the Reno Gazette-Journal about allegations against priests inthe Reno diocese, involve abuse that occurred decades ago, allegedly bypriests who are no longer in the area or have died, Cunningham said.

FromOctober 2005 to July 31, 2007, the diocese paid $328,068 in settlementsand for therapy to an undisclosed number of victims. But lawyersinvolved in the cases said there were about seven cases.

That newtotal was significantly higher than the $35,150 the diocese paid tovictims from January 2005 to October 2005, and higher than the $50,000paid in 2004 to a woman who said she was abused by the Rev. DavidBrusky.

Prior to the recent flurry of settlements, the dioceseonly reported one case of alleged priest abuse since 1995, when thediocese was created and former Bishop Phillip Straling took over.

Thatcase involved Monsignor Robert Bowling, who was named in 11 lawsuits inLouisville, Ky. Ten of the cases concerned claims while he worked inKentucky, and one was by a Reno woman who said he behaved in a sexuallyinappropriate manner with her while she was an adult.

A recentclaim of abuse made against the Rev. Honesto Agustin, former pastor ofSt. Therese Church of the Little Flower, was dropped after a policeinvestigation cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing.

Scandal hits Reno

NorthernNevada seemed immune from the clergy sex-abuse scandal that shook somany other parts of the country after the story first broke in Bostonin 2002.

But in 2005, stories of abuse by Reno priests became front-page news as a list of victims decided to come forward.

Todate, the abuse claims have involved three former Reno priests: Brusky,accused of molesting several young girls while an associate pastor atOur Lady of the Snows parish; Braun, accused of fondling and molestingteenage girls while at the Little Flower Church; and Vieages, accusedof molesting young boys at the St. Theresa's Elementary School inCarson City.

None was criminally charged because the accusationsinvolved molestation that occurred in the 1960s and 70s. But thediocese has been working with the victims to offer some relief,Cunningham and the victims' lawyers said.

Moisan said hermemories of the abuse began to spill out recently when her daughterannounced that she planned to marry a pastor. She contacted a Renolawyer, Jonathan Whitehead, and her case began.

"I was 13, in theseventh grade, and Father Braun invited us to a movie," she recalled."He took us to the drive-in. I was in the front seat. He pulled me inclose and told me my mom was in heaven and he wanted to love me."

Shesaid her sister and their friend got out of the car, while Braun"finished off what he was doing." Braun also molested the other girls,she said, and they, too, brought a case to the diocese.

Duringthe negotiation process, Moisan said she was interviewed by the dioceseand its lawyers and was shocked by the details they demanded.

"It was like a second victimization," she said. "That's why we settled; we didn't want to be made victims any further."

New safeguards

Thehorror stories about priests sexually abusing children havedramatically changed the way dioceses across the country operate,Cunningham said.

In Reno, they've implemented a list ofsafeguards, including background checks and safe-environment training,to make sure the stories are not repeated.

The diocese, alongwith all others in the country, will undergo an audit in October by agroup hired by the National Review Board on Misconduct to ensure thatthey are in compliance with church rules on protecting children,Cunningham said.

And when sexual abuse claims were made recentlyagainst Agustin, Bishop Calvo went to every mass at Little FlowerChurch and announced the allegations in both English and Spanish towarn parishioners and seek out any other possible victims, he said.

Apolice investigation cleared the priest, Cunningham said, and hereturned to ministry last fall. But Bishop Calvo was the first to letthe church members know and to bring the issue out into the open,Cunningham said.


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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia