DES MOINES, Iowa – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport agreed Monday to pay out $37 million to more than 150 sex abuse victims under a settlement that requires the bishop to personally apologize to any accusers or relatives who ask.
The deal, hammered out over four days of negotiations in Chicago, will address the claims of 156 victims of abuse who have come forward, with a portion of the money set aside in the event that more victims come forward.
The agreement completes a necessary step for the Davenport diocese, which filed for bankruptcy last year after allegations of abuse against former clergy members, some dating back nearly 70 years. The diocese is expected soon to file a formal plan for reorganization in U.S. Bankruptcy Court that will include the settlement agreement.
Martin J. Amos, the bishop of Davenport, said in a statement that the agreement offers "the best opportunity for healing" for victims of clergy abuse. He also said it would allay some uncertainty about the church's financial status and allow the diocese to continue its mission.
Lawyers for victims in the case likewise said they were satisfied with the amount of the settlement. Patrick Noaker said the agreement may offer closure, of sorts, though he cautioned that many larger issues still must be addressed and the settlement doesn't ensure that future perpetrators won't have access to children.
"I want to add a caveat," he said. "We are not there yet. The kids still need to be protected."
Church officials expect payments to victims to begin by July 2008. Funding will come from the sale of church properties and the diocese's insurance companies. Many of the diocese's properties have been sold or will go on the market as a result of the agreement.
The diocese also agreed to provide mental health counseling to any known or future abuse survivors and publish the names of all known abusers, and Amos will write personal letters of apology to any victim who wants one.
The Davenport diocese was the fourth in the country to file a bankruptcy claim under the weight of abuse claims. The others were Portland, Ore.; Spokane, Wash.; and Tucson, Ariz. In February, the Diocese of San Diego also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The Davenport diocese serves about 105,000 parishioners in 22 counties in southeastern Iowa.
Also on Monday, the Los Angeles Archdiocese wired $500 million to plaintiffs as part of the $660 million it has agreed to settle cases with more than 500 alleged victims of clergy abuse, and a former Catholic priest pleaded guilty in Los Angeles to sexually abusing two boys.
Michael Stephen Baker, 60, was sentenced to 10 years in prison as part of a plea deal. Authorities say Baker molested the boys on multiple occasions between 1994 and 1998, when he was a priest in the Los Angeles area. He was removed from the ministry in 2000.