Diocese reveals cost of abuse
Millions of dollars spent to settle claims against priests and employees
By Matt Russell
The Diocese of Winona has released data revealing the extent and cost of past sexual-abuse cases. This is the first time it has publicly disclosed such detailed information since the child-sex scandal broke in the U.S. Catholic Church last year.
Thirteen diocesan priests have had a total of 48 allegations of sexual abuse of minors brought against them during the past 50 years, Bishop Bernard Harrington reported in this month's issue of the diocese's official newspaper, The Courier. Three allegations were shown to be false and 12 were withdrawn. Harrington noted that the last case of abuse occurred in 1984.
The diocese's insurance companies have also paid a total of $3.7 million in settlements during the past 15 years resulting from "abuse by clergy, religious, or lay employees who are employed by the Diocese or its parishes and institutions," Harrington wrote. Of that amount, $3.5 million was paid before 1993 in a case against "one accused perpetrator."
In the last 15 years, the diocese itself paid $1.2 million in legal costs and settlements related to abuse, Harrington said, with all but $100,000 of that amount going to the victims of the same unnamed "accused perpetrator" before 1993. The diocese also paid an additional $900,000 in the past 15 years in "pastoral care" costs, including counseling and therapy, for those affected by abuse, including priests, Harrington wrote.
The bishop said money from the diocese's annual fund-raising drive and from its "Seeds of Faith" capital campaign are "restricted funds" and can't be used to pay abuse-related costs.
The Diocese of Winona released information on costs related to abuse cases over the past 15 years because that's the furthest back for which reasonably accurate court-cost records could be found, said diocese spokesman Ivan Kubista.
The 50-year time frame for the number of past allegations and number of accused priests matches the time period covered in a recent national study mandated by the National Review Board, an oversight body established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Winona Voice of the Faithful, the local affiliate of a national lay group formed last year in response to the sex-abuse crisis, has pressured the diocese since late last year to release information on the extent and cost of past sex-abuse allegations.
Jim Allaire, the group's leader, said he is pleased with the release of information. "The increased publicity is a welcome step, and it's a good first step along a road that's got many miles to go," he said.
Allaire said churches should provide brochures offering counseling to those affected by sexual abuse or offering information about groups such as Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
Harrington, in the September Courier, said the numbers suggest the problem is less prevalent in the Catholic church than in society at large.
"It is important to remember that we have not had a case involving clergy misconduct with minors for nearly two decades," he wrote. "We will do whatever we can to ensure that such instances remain only in the past."