COVINGTON, Ky. – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington (search) agreed Friday to set up a $120 million fund to compensate hundreds of victims of child-molesting priests and other employees. It would be the nation's biggest settlement in the scandal that has staggered the church.
The settlement, which is subject to approval by a Kentucky judge, would bring to a close a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of victims abused over a 50-year period. It accuses the diocese of a cover-up of sexual abuse by priests and others during that time.
"After personally meeting with more than 70 victims, I am painfully aware that no amount of money can compensate for the harm these victims suffered as innocent children," Covington Bishop Roger Foys (search) said in a statement. "Nevertheless, I pray that this settlement will bring some measure of peace and healing to victims and their loved ones."
Victims will be grouped into four categories based on the severity of abuse, and compensation will range from $5,000 to $450,000 per person, before attorney fees are deducted.
A portion will be set aside to provide counseling, the statement said. Any money not used for claims or other expenses would be returned to the diocese, it said.
According to the statement, the class of victims "encompasses all persons, known and unknown, who were abused during the 50-year class period." Lawyers for plaintiffs and the diocese have said that number would be in the hundreds. It could be months before an exact number is known, however, the lawyers have said.
"The additional anxiety and stress that would have occurred to the victims had there been a trial has been eliminated," said Stan Chesley (search), the plaintiffs' chief attorney.
A spokesman for the diocese would not comment on how the diocese could afford the settlement — or why the amount was so much larger than agreements reached in other abuse settlements. "Both parties have agreed not to comment on the details of the settlement at this time," said spokesman Tim Fitzgerald.
Last year, the Orange County, Calif., Diocese agreed to a settlement that participants said would pay $100 million to 87 victims. In 2003, the Boston Archdiocese, where the scandal first erupted, settled with 552 victims for $85 million.
Covington — a suburb of Cincinnati, which is across the Ohio River — is far smaller than Boston, the nation's fourth-largest diocese with about 2.1 million parishioners. The Covington Diocese spans 14 counties and has 89,000 parishioners. The lawsuit also covers some Kentucky counties that were part of the Covington Diocese until 1988, when a new diocese in Lexington formed.
In a statement, the diocese and plaintiffs' attorneys said $40 million of the settlement fund would come from a combination of church real estate and investments, and $80 million would come from insurance.
Sue Archibald, head of the clergy-abuse victims advocacy group The Linkup, called the settlement fair and commended the diocese for its efforts.
"It's difficult to put a dollar figure on damages that can't be valued, but the size of the settlement signifies how serious the abuse and its effects were," Archibald said. "I hope the settlement enables the survivors to move forward with their healing."
In addition to the dioceses that have reached major settlements, three — in Tucson, Ariz., Portland, Ore., and Spokane, Wash. — have filed bankruptcy claims because of abuse allegations.
With the lawsuit pending, the Covington Diocese settled other claims, paying $4 million from its savings and $6.5 million from insurance over the last 18 months to resolve 56 sex abuse claims. It recently said it would move its offices to a medical center to cut costs and earlier announced some layoffs.
"I don't know that the money is ever a remedy for what was taken from us," said Kay Montgomery of Lexington, central Kentucky director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. She settled separately with the Covington diocese and is not part of the new settlement.
"It doesn't bring back the lost innocence for the victims, and it certainly will not bring the innocent life back to them," she said.