Money Reportedly Sinks Talks on Sex-Abuse Suits
By Eric Gorski
August 23, 2006
Background | The Denver archdiocese announced in May that it had committed a "very large" sum of money to negotiate settlements for clergy misconduct.
A lawyer for 19 of the 30 people suing the Denver Roman Catholic Archdiocese for alleged clergy sexual abuse of minors said Tuesday that attempts to mediate his clients' claims have failed, in large part because the sides are far apart on money.
"We were led to believe that the Archdiocese of Denver set aside a 'substantial' pot of money for these cases," attorney Jeffrey Herman of Miami said in a statement announcing the impasse. "That is apparently not the case. Our clients made a good-faith effort to settle their lawsuits but have not been able (to) resolve these cases without going to court."
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput announced in May that the archdiocese had hired mediator Richard Dana, a former state district judge, and committed an undisclosed "very large" sum of money in an attempt to negotiate lawsuit settlements by the end of October.
At the passage of a deadline Tuesday for plaintiffs to request mediation, achieving that goal appeared increasingly unlikely.
The other attorney suing the archdiocese, Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., said that to his knowledge, none of his 11 clients sat down at the table, although one or two had been weighing the possibility, he said.
Jeanette DeMelo, Chaput's spokeswoman, said the archdiocese was unaware Herman had declared mediation a failure. She said although the deadline has passed, church officials remain open to talking.
"We have been pleased with the number of people who have come forward, but the process is still going on," she said. "Out of respect for the people involved and the integrity of the whole process, we're not going to comment further at this time. I hope, in the end, we have some good things to say about it."
Dana, who helped settle claims brought by relatives of Columbine High School shooting victims, did not return phone messages this week.
Herman said he spent two weeks in Denver sitting down with each of his 19 clients and the mediation panel.
The initial ground rules said attorneys could observe but not participate and that no archdiocesan officials would attend. Herman said that after he protested, he was allowed to represent his clients, and the archdiocese agreed to send a representative to hear the plaintiffs' stories.
Citing a requirement that mediation talks be confidential, Herman would not speak to the dollar amounts discussed but said his requests were reasonable.
"I am concerned that the archdiocese announced this mediation as more of a public-relations move than a genuine effort to fairly compensate these victims," he said.
Anderson said "quick and quiet" financial settlements fail to address questions about what the church knew about the accused priests, among other concerns.
Chaput in May called the mediation offer a sincere attempt to help victims heal. DeMelo echoed that Tuesday, saying the archdiocese is seeking "closure for the individuals involved."
Lawyers for the archdiocese are seeking to dismiss the lawsuits, which center on decades-old allegations against former priest Harold Robert White and the Rev. Leonard Abercrombie, who died in 1994.
Staff writer Eric Gorski can be reached at 303-820-1698 or email@example.com.
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