Deal May Come Next Week in Suits against Archdiocese

By Peter Smith
The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
Downloaded June 6, 2003

Negotiators wrapped up a third day of talks yesterday aimed at settling sexual -abuse lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville, with both sides reporting slow progress but expressing hope for a settlement as early as next week.

Representatives of 242 plaintiffs, the archdiocese and a Southern Indiana-based order of Conventual Franciscans expect to resume talks Monday and Tuesday.

Each side gathered yesterday in separate rooms at the Jefferson Club for talks with mediator Nicholas Politan, a former New Jersey federal judge.

Politan spent the day shuttling between the rooms, talking with each group about their cases and the strength of their bargaining positions. But he has not told the other sides what sort of dollar figures they are considering, participants said.

"The purpose of a good mediator is to bring a sense of realism to each side's position," said William McMurry, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. He added that he has "made some concessions" in his talks with Politan.

"We are encouraged because Judge Politan believes there's reason to continue the process," McMurry said.

Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer for the archdiocese, also expressed optimism.

"We've had very complex conversations over the past three days," said Reynolds, the lead negotiator for the archdiocese. "I remain confident that this is the best way to respond to this amount and type of litigation."

He said the archdiocese, which says it has already decided to cut 34 jobs, is bracing for "the reality that a settlement will have a significant financial impact on the archdiocese. We've got to find a way to respond to this litigation while also preserving the work of the church, and that's the difficulty."

Other dioceses around the country have settled similar lawsuits in the millions or even tens of millions of dollars.

The plaintiffs allege the church covered up sexual abuse during the past 50 years by dozens of priests and others associated with the church. Church officials deny any cover - up.

Jefferson Circuit Court Judge James M. Shake approved the mediation process for the lawsuits earlier this year, giving class-action status to the plaintiffs for purposes of trying to reach an agreement by Aug. 1.

Of the 254 lawsuits filed against the archdiocese since April 2002, 242 plaintiffs have joined class-action talks. One has opted out, six have settled, and the rest filed after the deadline for signing up for the talks.

The Franciscans, based at Mount St. Francis in Floyd County, Ind., are co-defendants in 19 cases alleging their members committed abuse while working for the Louisville Archdiocese.


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