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Spotlight Report

Settlement in Minn. and retraction cited

By Stephen Kurkjian and Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 3/22/2002

SAN DIEGO - Two Roman Catholic archbishops confirmed yesterday that in the mid-1990s they were involved in a legal settlement of a claim that San Diego Bishop Robert H. Brom coerced a seminarian into having sex when Brom was bishop of Duluth, Minn.

However, the former seminarian who leveled the charges retracted them after reaching the settlement that provided him with a sum that was less than $100,000, Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz of Anchorage said in an interview. At the time of the agreement, Schwietz was bishop of Duluth.

Brom, in a statement last night, denied the allegations, which stemmed from the 1980s. Brom said the charges against him - and three other bishops and several priests - had been disproved by an investigation and retracted by the former seminarian.

While declining to provide a copy of the retraction, the diocese last night released a statement containing what it said was a portion of the retraction. It read: ''Following careful investigation by many attorneys working independently, hard facts have been brought to light which contradict [the former seminarian's] allegations and disprove what he thought he remembered. ... Having no other claims of sexual misconduct against bishops, priests and institutions ... [he] freely retracts each and every allegation and claim against each of them, and welcomes the assistance provided herein toward a healthy life.''

The statement, issued by Bernadeane Carr, spokeswoman for the San Diego Diocese, made no mention of a settlement. However, it stated that ''some minimal insurance'' money had been paid to the former seminarian's lawyer to help him receive counseling.

The statement said the accused priests opposed any monetary settlement because ''that would be misinterpreted as a payoff.''

In an accompanying statement that he sent to priests and parishioners in San Diego, Brom said, ''I want to assure you that I have never engaged in sexual misconduct and that, therefore, any and all allegations against me are false.'' He said the allegations had been spread by ''those who presently, and for years have made me the target of their slanderous attacks.''

However, according to an affidavit filed last week in an unrelated case in San Diego Superior Court, the former seminarian told a friend that he only recanted the charges so he could receive his settlement money. The friend, Mark Brooks of San Diego, another former seminarian, said in his affidavit that the former seminarian told him his retraction letter was ''false.''

Archbishop John G. Vlazny of Portland, Ore., said in an interview that the retraction by the seminarian was a condition insisted on by the Duluth diocese in return for the settlement. At the time the case was settled, Vlazny was the bishop of the Winona diocese in southern Minnesota, where the seminary is.

The former seminarian could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Herbert J. Friedman of Lincoln, Neb., declined to be interviewed.

According to Vlazny, the former seminarian accused other top prelates, including the late Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, of coercing seminarians at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minn. into having sex.

Bernardin, who died in 1996, was publicly accused of sexual abuse by Stephen Cook, another former seminarian, in 1993. The following year, Cook, who was dying of AIDS, withdrew the charge. Cook said repressed memories that had surfaced during therapy and led him to file suit against Bernardin were ''unreliable.'' Cook said they were no longer accurate.

Vlazny said he did not place much credibility in the accuracy of the charges against Brom and the others ''because they were just too bizarre to believe'' and that an inquiry into them by his judicial vicar cast doubt on their accuracy. However, Vlazny said he was uncertain whether a formal retraction of the charges was ever made.

The cost of the settlement, which Vlazny said was ''in the ballpark but somewhat less than $100,000,'' was shared between the Winona diocese, which operated the seminary, and the Duluth seminary, where the young man had resided.

Asked why he would settle a suit that would pay nearly $100,000 if the allegations were disproved, Vlazny said: ''I viewed this [settlement] not as a matter of justice but as a matter of charity.''

Vlazny said the settlement was agreed to after the former seminarian met with Brom and Schwietz to discuss the allegations. Vlazny recalled that Brom insisted that the victim had to retract his allegations formally before the Duluth diocese would agree to participate in paying half of the settlement money.

Lynda Gorov of the Globe Staff contributed to this report from San Diego.Stephen Kurkjian can be reached by e-mail at kurkjian@globe.com.

This story ran on page A26 of the Boston Globe on 3/22/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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