Seattle Archdiocese to pay $12.1 million to settle sex abuse lawsuit

The Seattle settlement covers cases dating back to the 1950s and adds to the more than $1.25 billion paid by the Catholic Church in response to sex abuse lawsuits in the US since 1994.

M. Spencer Green/AP/File
This 2002 file photo shows Chicago Cardinal Francis George listening to reporters' questions before he left for Rome to meet with Vatican officials and other American cardinals about the child sex abuse scandals in the United States.

The Archdiocese of Seattle agreed on Tuesday to pay $12.1 million dollars to settle a lawsuit involving 30 alleged sex abuse cases stretching back decades. The latest payout adds to at least $1.25 billion in settlements and jury awards paid by the Catholic Church in America in response to sex scandals since 1994.

According to the men who filed the lawsuit, whose ages ranged from 42 to 68, the church failed to protect them from known sex abusers at the O’Dea and Briscoe schools in King County, Wash., from the early 1950s through the mid-'80s. Though both institutions were operated by the Roman Catholic Christian Brothers order, which filed for bankruptcy in 2011, the schools were owned by the archdiocese. 

“I deeply regret the pain suffered by these victims,” said Archbishop J. Peter Sartain in a statement. “Our hope is that this settlement will bring them closure and allow them to continue the process of healing.”

According to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Mike Pfau, this agreement caps a dark chapter for the archdiocese. 

“This marks the end of 10 years of really horrible cases involving these two schools,” Mr. Pfau said to the Seattle Times.

According to court documents, church officials knew that some teachers had a record of pedophilia, yet allowed them to come into regular contact with children. Court documents allege that Edward Courtney abused one-third of the plaintiffs and had been moved four times to different schools across the country after repeated accusations of sex abuse.

Court documents also allege that one student’s father had approached archdiocese officials regarding an allegation of abuse but was told the archdiocese could take no action because the school was operated by the Christian Brothers.

This lawsuit is just the latest in a storm of Catholic sex abuse lawsuits and settlements during the past two decades – many alleging that church officials knowingly put sex abusers into situations where they would come into frequent contact with children.

The first multimillion-dollar settlement of this kind by the Catholic Church occurred in 1997 in Dallas, where the local archdiocese paid $31 million to victims.

Intense national scrutiny on the issue, however, began in earnest in 2002, when The Boston Globe published a series of investigative reports leading to a 2003 settlement, in which the Boston Archdiocese paid $85 million to 552 victims. Among the allegations made by the Globe was a failure among Catholic officials to remove priests with a history of sex abuse.

Since 1994, at least 17 American archdioceses have reached settlements in sex scandals, and seven were forced to file for bankruptcy as a result. In 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles paid $660 million in a settlement involving at least 508 victims.

As for the total number of victims in the US, a 2004 report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that 10,667 people had made allegations of child sex abuse against priests in the US between 1950 and 2002, peaking in the 1970s. Of these accusations, 6,700 were substantiated against 4,392 priests, accounting for about 4 percent of all priests who served during that period.

Since that study, at least 1,835 more victims have received settlements from the Catholic Church in the US.

This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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