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Spotlight Report

Settlement counters claim by a bishop

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 7/3/2002

Three days after United States bishops meeting in Dallas endorsed a policy of transparency and openness to address the issue of clergy sexual abuse, San Diego Bishop Robert H. Brom claimed that there had been ''no large financial settlements'' of sexual misconduct claims in the diocese since 1990, when Brom was named bishop.

At a news conference following the landmark June meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and in a two-page letter to parishioners, Brom said that ''the small settlements that were made were covered by insurance'' and that the diocese had paid ''slightly less than $200,000'' for medical treatment and counseling to victims over the last 12 years.

But last December the San Diego Diocese paid $250,000 to the victim of just one priest with a check drawn on a Union Bank of California account held by the San Diego Diocese, according to a copy of the check, other documents obtained by the Globe, and interviews with people involved.

John C. Manly, a California attorney who represented the alleged victim in the settlement, praised Brom for taking the sexual molestation claim seriously. But he criticized the bishop for minimizing the diocese's financial involvement in the scandal in a way that Manly characterized as ''at worst a lie and at best grossly misleading.''

Monsignor Francis J. Maniscalco, the spokesman for the Conference of Bishops, said he would not comment until he has learned more about Brom's statement and the settlement.

But a spokesman for Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, named by the bishops to head a panel that will oversee their new policies on clergy sexual abuse, said, ''In the governor's mind, anything that's not reported and made public can be construed as hush money.'' The spokesman said Keating would not comment on the specifics of Brom's statement but also said that Keating ''is for openness and opening the books'' to air all settlements of seuxal abuse claims, including those covered by insurance.

Bernadeane Carr, a spokeswoman for the diocese, asserted in response to Globe questions earlier this week that the diocese had made no payments toward sexual abuse claims above the $200,000 cited by Brom. ''The total outlay by the diocese in any form whatsoever was $200,000. As it worked out, it was all paid out in outreach to families for therapy and counseling,'' Carr said.

But yesterday, when asked specifically about the $250,000 payment from the diocese last year, Carr said the funds might have originated with an insurance company or ''the perpetrator.'' She also said that a portion of the settlement was made with diocesan funds included in the $200,000 she previously said was restricted to medical care and therapy.

Pressed further, Carr said the diocese is conducting an internal audit to determine how much has been paid to settle clergy sex abuse claims with insurance and funds provided by accused priests, but has not decided whether to make the results of the audit public.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, called Brom's assertion ''disingenuous at best.'' Again and again, he said, ''there has been a pattern among the bishops, `Yes, our church has a problem, but certainly not here.''' Clohessy said he suspects that Brom may have been reluctant to admit to settlements, and their costs, out of fear that parishioners in his diocese would cut back on donations.

Other dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Boston, have acknowledged settling claims of clergy sexual abuse with payments provided by insurance carriers.

But Carr said Brom's statement did not include any insurance payments toward clergy sexual abuse claims. And when asked if a $250,000 settlement contradicted Brom's assertion that the diocese had made ''no large financial settlements'' of sexual abuse claims, Carr said, ''I don't have a comment about that.''

Brom, after attending the Dallas meeting, held a June 17 news conference where he announced that since 1990, sexual abuse claims had been made against 23 priests for alleged instances of misconduct that had occurred over the last 50 years. He also said that ''there have been no large financial settlements of legal claims regarding any of these cases, and the small settlements that have been made were covered by our insurance,'' adding that outreach to victims and their families had cost less than $200,000.

Manly said Brom's statement ''makes it sound like they've paid only $200,000 when they paid more than that. If you're going to be transparent, be transparent.'' He also said that ''the spirit the bishops tried to convey in Dallas was, `This is no longer business as usual, we're going to treat this issue differently and we're going to be honest and open with the victims, the public, and the faithful and try to put this behind the church.' But this isn't transparent, it's not honest, it's not open.''

Another source involved in the $250,000 settlement said Brom was personally involved in negotiating the payment and also helped set up a meeting between the alleged victim and the accused priest, who has since died.

Manly said no lawsuit was filed in the claim that led to the $250,000 settlement with the San Diego Diocese. He said that he and his client rejected a confidentiality agreement initially proposed by the estate of the accused priest.

Sources said the sexual abuse claim was made by a California man in his 50s who said he was molested by the late Monsignor William A. Kraft approximately 35 years ago, when the alleged victim was a teenager holding a church maintenance job. Since then, the victim, who is married and has several children, has suffered from psychological problems that he attributes to the alleged molestation by Kraft.

The sources said Brom handled the accusation sensitively, and personally arranged a meeting between the victim and Kraft, who was on his deathbed and died shortly after. They also said Brom assured the victim that he found his accusation to be credible.

In March, the Globe reported that in the mid-1990s the Minnesota dioceses of Duluth and Winona paid a legal settlement of a claim that Brom had coerced a seminarian into having sex with him when Brom was bishop of Duluth. The former seminarian retracted the claim after reaching the settlement, which provided him with less than $100,000.

In a statement to priests and parishioners, Brom denied the allegations of abuse, which included charges against three other bishops and several priests over incidents that allegedly occurred in the 1980s. ''I want to assure you that I have never engaged in sexual misconduct and that, therefore, any and all allegations against me are false,'' Brom said.

At its meeting last month, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Article Seven says that each diocese ''will develop a communications policy that reflects a commitment to transparency and openness'' and ''will deal as openly as possible with members of the community.''

Walter V. Robinson of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Michael Rezendes can be reached at rezendes@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/3/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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