Bishop Robert J. Baker announced the settlement in a letter to SouthCarolina Catholics in The Catholic Miscellany Jan. 25 and held a pressconference Jan. 26. The settlement has been preliminarily approved byCircuit Judge Diane S. Goodstein. A fairness hearing has been set forMarch 9 in the Dorchester County Court of Common Pleas.
“The demands of justice and the desire to heal the hurts of thoseabused by those sent to minister to them weigh heavily upon my heart,”he said in his letter. “I deeply regret the anguish of any individualwho has suffered the scourge of childhood abuse and am firmly committedto a just resolution of any instance in which a person who holds theresponsibility of protector has become a predator. I believe that aproactive approach to healing the evil that has been done is not onlyconstructive, but absolutely necessary.”
The settlement provides for the formation of two classes of claimantsagainst the diocese. The first class includes all individuals born onor before Aug. 30, 1980, who were sexually abused as minors by agentsof the Diocese of Charleston. The second class includes spouses andparents of those victims. The 1980 date was selected to limit problemswith state statutes of limitations and make it easier for adults tostep forward, according to A. Peter Shahid Jr., attorney for thediocese.
The court will appoint a neutral arbitrator to review and validate eachclaim. The arbitrator will determine the monetary award for each victimwithin a predetermined range based on the nature of the abuse he or shesuffered.
The monetary range is $10,000-$200,000 for the first class settlementsand a set amount of $20,000 per claimant for the second class. Anypotential victims who do not participate may be unable to make futurelegal claims against the diocese.
The diocese will fund the settlement from two pools of money. The firstpool will be $5 million, and if $4 million of that sum is awarded, asecond and final pool of $7 million will be put in place. If the totalsum of all settlements falls below the allotted funds, that money willbe returned to the diocese.
Four victims’ claims were settled last summer. Shahid said the dioceseknows of at least eight other victims, although more may come forward.Since 1950, there have been 50 abuse claims involving 28 clergy orother diocesan employees settled for almost $3 million, he said. Thoseclaims were not part of the new settlement.
During the press conference, John Barker, chief financial officer forthe diocese, said that the money for the settlement will come frominsurance, interest on investments and, if needed, the sale ofproperty. He said that property sale would be the last option.
“The settlement will benefit both victims and the church,” Barkersaid. “It provides a forum for victims to come forward in aconfidential, non-intimidating manner. It also allows the church toreach out to victims and compensate them for their suffering.”The identity of all claimants will be confidential, according toShahid.
“This really is, for lack of a better word, a user-friendlyapproach,” he told The Miscellany in an interview. “This process willhopefully eliminate any embarassment and feeling of victimization. Weinvite people to come forward with their claims so they don’t continueto harbor this emotional drain, so they can experience fullness withthe church.”
In a press release sent out by the diocese, Lawrence Richter, leadcounsel for the claimants, stated, “Hopefully this class settlementwill bring to a close this sad and shameful chapter, and enable victimsto have some closure, compensation and peace. These brave andlong-suffering victims who have stood firm and demanded accountabilityshould be applauded. These individuals can never be fully compensatednor their suffering taken away. I anticipate they will find comfort inthe hope that their actions may serve as a deterrent to futurevictimization by those who hold a public trust.”
The Diocese of Charleston is encouraging victims of sexual abuse bychurch personnel in South Carolina to come forward and file their claimby contacting class counsel, Richter and Haller, LLC, at (843)849-6000.