Springfield Diocese resolves 59 abuse claims

SPRINGFIELD -- The Diocese of Springfield has reached agreements with 59 men and women who came forward to speak of their past abuse by clergy and religious. Each had been invited to participate in a voluntary arbitration process.

The claims of abuse date back to 1948. In addition to these financial settlements, all victims remain eligible to receive continuing counseling and assistance programs through the diocese.

In total, $4.5 million was awarded on Nov. 20. This was paid entirely through a fund set up by diocesan insurance carriers under an agreement reached with the diocese in late June. Attorney John J. Egan, legal counsel to the Diocese of Springfield, spearheaded the four-year effort to get insurance carriers to fulfill their obligations to the victims. He said he was thankful that there was 100 percent participation by those invited to take part in the mediation.

“The level of participation was extraordinary and in my view a tribute to fairness of the process. We are very pleased,” Egan said. “The claimants’ patience was a key part to our being able to recover from the insurance carriers and put together a process for resolving their individual claims that drew their complete participation.

“Finally, we recognize this does not provide closure for them, but we see it as support and assistance as they seek to mend their lives. For that reason, the programs offered through the Office of Victim Assistance will still be available to them.”

Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell said that it was out of a sense of moral responsibility that the diocese reached out to those suffering the aftereffects of clergy sexual abuse.

“It’s a terrible thing for anyone to suffer sexual abuse, but even more so for a child,” he said. “The aftereffects impact the person’s whole life. My prayer is that a small step toward healing takes place through these settlements. I apologize to all who have been hurt.”

A Hampden County Grand Jury convened in 2004 and, more recently, the insurance carriers had conducted separate and expansive reviews of diocesan records from the time periods in question. Neither inquiry produced any evidence that the diocese had fore-knowledge of the wrongdoing.

Each of the accused in these 59 cases, including clergy and a single woman religious, has been out of public ministry for years, or is deceased.

Included in those who settled the cases were the two people who alleged misconduct by former Springfield Bishop Thomas L. Dupre when he was a diocesan priest in the 1970s. The former Springfield bishop financially contributed in those two settlements.

The arbitration process was handled by Paul Finn and Brian Mone of Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation in Brockton, Mass. They were chosen based on their experience in mediating many sexual abuse claims throughout New England.

The arbitration process provided the victims with a hearing at which they could tell their stories and not be subject to questioning by attorneys for the insurance carriers or the diocese. After hearing from the victims, and witnesses they offered, and reviewing medical materials, the mediators awarded each individual an amount between $5,000 and $200,000.

The diocese waived all legal defenses including the statute of limitations or charitable immunity for these cases.

In order to be eligible to participate in this voluntary arbitration process, the claimants first had to complete for the arbitrators, under oath, a confidential questionnaire developed by the insurance carriers. The process only applied to credible, pending claims of which the diocese had notice by noon on June 2, 2008, concerning acts which took place prior to October 1986. This stipulation was established because these carriers had stopped providing insurance after 1986.

Four claimants were not offered the opportunity to participate in the process. In these four cases, the claims were found to be not credible. These individuals may still seek action through the courts, although the diocese has indicated it will now assert all of its legal rights, including charitable immunity, in any future cases.

At the June announcement of the mediation plan, the diocese and its insurers indicated that up to $5 million could be allocated for settlements. With the arbitration process now complete, checks for $4.5 million have been sent out. The diocese is retaining approximately $500,000 for claims not covered by these settlements and other victim services that may arise in the future.

The diocese has now paid out nearly $12.5 million to victims of abuse. Twenty five percent of those claims involved time periods in which the diocese did not have insurance. For the claims which were covered by insurance, nearly $8.5 million was covered by the insurance carriers.

Funds provided by the diocese came from discretionary accounts and not from direct contributions to the diocese, its parishes or the Annual Catholic Appeal.

There are eight claims still pending against the diocese, six of which have been found “not credible” by either the Diocesan Review Board or attorneys for the diocese. The remaining two are in the process of presenting their claims to the review board. These cases will be reviewed with assistance from the mediators in early 2009.