Theone-year payout raises the diocese total to more than $1.9 million paidsince 1950 to settle claims of sexual misconduct by 37 people againstat least 15 priests, diocese spokesman Frank Morock said. Two priestswere exonerated by diocese officials during those years, and all areeither dead or retired.
In addition, the audit says dioceseofficials and lawyers plan to contest three other potential claims fromthe 1950s and one from the 1960s that might result in legal action -- astance that advocates for abuse victims say will intimidate othervictims.
"It clearly says 'Come forward if you want to, but we'regoing to fight you tooth and nail,' " said David Clohessy, nationaldirector of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP."Bishops and their lawyers still hope that, over time, victims willgive up and go away and struggle with the lifelong struggle they've hadsince childhood."
Settlements by the Raleigh diocese, whichcovers 54 counties in Eastern North Carolina, including the Triangle,are part of the troubled effort nationwide by the Catholic Church toaddress decades of sexual abuse by priests, with many incidentsinvolving children or teens in their parishes. Until 1971, the dioceseincluded the entire state; since then, the Diocese of Charlotte hascovered the state's western counties.
Long cloaked in secrecy bychurch officials, the legacy of sexual predators in the Catholicpriesthood erupted in scandal five years ago, first in the Archdioceseof Boston, then in jurisdictions across the country. Since then, tworeports commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops andinvestigations by news organizations have tallied more than $1 billionpaid by church leaders for settlements with victims, legal fees,counseling and courtroom verdicts.
On Thursday, a federalmediator announced that the Spokane, Wash., Catholic Diocese has agreedto pay at least $48 million to people molested by priests as a part ofa deal to emerge from bankruptcy, The Associated Press reported. OtherCatholic jurisdictions are paying a heavier price. Last month, theArchdiocese of Portland, Ore., filed a bankruptcy reorganization planthat would pay about $75 million to settle nearly 170 claims of priestsex abuse. The Archdiocese of Boston paid $85 million in 2003 to settle552 claims.
"Dioceses across the country are trying to reachresolution with people who have been abused by clergy," said SisterMary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of CatholicBishops, based in Washington, D.C. "There's an overall feeling we needclosure. The people who have been victimized need closure, the parishesneed closure."
Monetary settlements are only part of this effort,Walsh said. Church officials also arrange meetings between victims andtheir abusers and provide counseling and prayer support.
ButMarigrace Labella, leader of the Raleigh SNAP chapter, said monetarysettlements and other church initiatives aren't enough to take away thepain of people who have been sexually abused by priests. Labella alsocriticized the Raleigh diocese's decision to contest four potentialclaims mentioned in the audit.
"If they're going to contest it,that's a re-victimization," she said. "There's never enoughcompensation and never any closure. It's so un-Christ-like."
Labellasaid other Triangle victims of sexual abuse by priests may soon stepforward. But Morock, the Raleigh diocese spokesman, said there havebeen no additional settlements since the end of the fiscal year inJune. Last year, the diocese budgeted about $600,000 to cover sexualabuse claims but wound up paying more than $1.19 million in settlements-- money that came from a self-insurance fund maintained by all 98parishes and mission churches in the diocese.
"Because people arehurting, dioceses try to do everything in their power to bring closureand a sense of justice to those who have made the complaint andeveryone involved," he said.
(News researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this report.)