MARSHALL, Texas – Plaintiffs suing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (search) and related agencies for allegedly failing to do more to stop a sexually abusive pastor said Wednesday they had reached settlements with nearly all defendants.
The announcement came two days after a jury was selected in a civil case involving former Lutheran minister Gerald Patrick Thomas Jr. (search) that was brought by 14 alleged victims and their families.
A joint statement by plaintiffs and defendants said the settlement involved the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Ohio seminary that Thomas attended, a candidacy committee in Michigan, and the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Marshall, where Thomas was pastor from 1997 to 2001.
Reminiscent of complaints against the Roman Catholic (search) hierarchy in recent years, the Thomas case is one of the most serious abuse lawsuits to hit a U.S. Protestant denomination. The Chicago-based denomination has 5 million members.
The settlement is subject to court approval at a hearing Monday. None of the parties would reveal details of the settlement or how much victims might be paid.
A source close to the case told The Associated Press last week that the sides were nearing agreement on a $40 million settlement, averaging about $2.85 million per plaintiff. However, the amount could have changed and could not be verified Wednesday.
The trial is expected to proceed against the denomination's Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod, which was not a part of the settlement. Officials with the Dallas-based synod have declined repeated requests for comment.
Jurors took less than 15 minutes last year to convict Thomas of sexually assaulting boys, then sentenced him to 397 years behind bars.
Church officials have denied negligence, despite private memos that detailed Thomas' questionable behavior before he arrived in Marshall in 1997.
"It is uncontested, we believe, that immediately after the bishop learned of his arrest and the criminal charges against Thomas, the bishop received Thomas' resignation," John Brooks, denomination spokesman.
Thomas, 41, was criminally charged in 2001, after a teenager found nude images of friends on the pastor's computer and tried to blackmail him.
Convicted on federal child pornography charges, he is serving five years at the U.S. Penitentiary in Beaumont. His state sentence will start after that.