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CALIF-SETTLE Jun-30-2005 (790 words) xxxn

Sacramento, Santa Rosa dioceses settle sex abuse cases

By Julie Sly
Catholic News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CNS) -- The Diocese of Sacramento has agreed to pay $35 million to 33 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse, diocesan officials announced June 29.

The agreement, mediated by a retired Sacramento Superior Court judge, resolves all pending claims against the diocese alleging sexual abuse by priests against children over the past four decades.

The same day the Diocese of Santa Rosa announced it had reached a $7.3 million settlement in eight of the nine pending cases against the diocese.

The Sacramento and Santa Rosa cases were filed after California enacted a law establishing a one-year window in 2003 during which victims of childhood sexual abuse could file civil suits previously barred by the statute of limitations. About 800 claims against the church were filed statewide.

The Sacramento agreement was reached a day before the first case was scheduled to go to trial.

"I do offer an apology from the church," Sacramento Bishop William K. Weigand told reporters. "This sort of thing should not happen. It must not happen in the future. It's totally contrary to the mission of the church and the call of a priest or any other worker in the church."

The bishop said the settlement was reasonable and the diocese acted responsibly in its handling of claims.

"There are no winners in any situation of this kind, but we win to the extent that we put it behind us, that we take care of victims, that we prevent it in the future and that we go on serving the community as best we can," he said.

The bishop said the settlement provides care and compensation to the victims, makes sure that children and young people can be safe in the church and ensures that church ministries and social services are available for those who need them.

James Sweeney, attorney for the Sacramento Diocese, said the abuse cases originally involved 34 plaintiffs, but one has died.

The exact amount of compensation each person will receive will be determined by a process established by the individuals and their attorneys, Sweeney said.

The diocese will fund the settlement through a 15 percent reduction in operating expenses this year, loans and the sale of diocesan assets.

Less than 50 percent of the costs will be paid by insurance, Sweeney said.

Three Catholic religious orders who have had priests serve in the diocese -- Dominicans, Salesians and Redemptorists -- are also contributing to the settlement.

Bishop Weigand said no parish assets will be used to fund the settlement, nor will any funds contributed by parishioners as part of the 2002 diocesan capital campaign.

The bishop added that the diocese will offer a process of spiritual direction and reconciliation to victims and their families if they are interested in reintegrating into the Catholic community.

The 34 lawsuits against the diocese were the result of allegations against 10 priests over a 35-year period.

Of the 10 priests, two are dead, three have fled to Mexico, and four have retired or are otherwise out of active ministry, Sweeney said.

None of them were transferred to other dioceses. One priest's case was reviewed by the diocese's Independent Review Board, which found that the allegation lacked credibility and recommended that he be kept in ministry.

Twenty-five of the lawsuits involved allegations against two priests. Sixteen of the cases allege abuse by Father Mario Blanco, a former Salesian priest who worked in the diocese from 1969 to 1973.

Nine of the cases involved Father Francisco Javier Garcia, who was accused of molesting children in Sacramento, Yolo and Colusa counties. Father Garcia fled to Mexico in 1995 and remains wanted on a dozen felony molestation charges in Yolo and Colusa counties.

The Santa Rosa settlement "provides just and reasonable compensation for the victims of past abuse, while preserving the spiritual and material ministries of the diocese," said Santa Rosa Bishop Daniel F. Walsh in a news release announcing the agreement.

The bishop renewed his pledge that no capital campaign funds or other earmarked donations would be used to fund sex abuse settlements.

The settlement will be funded primarily by insurance coverage with the diocese expected to contribute slightly less than 25 percent, said the news release.

"It is my hope that this settlement will bring not only a measure of healing to the victims, but also an end to uncertainty among parishioners about the financial future and stability of this diocese," Bishop Walsh said.

This was the second settlement announced by the Santa Rosa Diocese in 2005. In April it reached a $3.3 million settlement with a single plaintiff.

Diocesan officials expressed hope that the one case pending would be resolved by the end of this year.


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