Catholic Abuse Scandal Could Cost $2B+

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The chairman of the Catholic lay reform group Voice of the Faithful (search) predicted Saturday that the clergy sexual abuse scandal will eventually cost U.S. dioceses $2 billion to $3 billion.

Speaking at the first national meeting of the group in three years, David Castaldi (search) urged leaders of local affiliates to press their bishops for better financial reporting as individual dioceses post large payouts to abuse victims, lawyers and others.

The Associated Press reported last month that the costs to the church so far totaled slightly more than $1 billion for abuse cases that date back decades. The projection by Castaldi indicates that direct costs could rise twice as high.

Boston, where the scandal first erupted more than three years ago before spreading nationwide, reached an $85 million settlement with 552 people in 2003. The Diocese of Orange, Calif., settled 90 abuse claims for $100 million last December, followed by last month's settlement of $120 million by the Diocese of Covington, Ky.

"That record will not last," said Castaldi, who is also a former chancellor and chief financial officer for the Boston Archdiocese (search).

The bankrupt Diocese of Portland, Ore., faces claims topping $500 million, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will settle cases for at least $500 million and perhaps as much as $1.5 billion, he said.

"We can now see total direct costs of $2 billion to $3 billion," he said.

Illinois Appellate Judge Anne Burke, the former chairwoman of the church's National Review Board, said group members must keep pressure up or bishops will try to roll back some of the financial reforms instituted since 2002.

"You have been the catalysts of unexpected good. You have made it happen in unexpected places," Burke told more than 500 Voice of the Faithful leaders from more than 30 states.

Burke was highly critical of bishops. When the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met last month in Chicago, she said, some leaders wanted to soften the standards of accountability they have faced since 2002.

"Some of them found it was time to roll back the clock," she said. In the end, media leaks of the proposed changes created pressure that forced the bishops to keep the accountability standards intact, she said.

During a news conference, Voice President Jim Post said the Indianapolis meeting marked a crossroads as the Newton, Mass.-based lay group evolves from an organization that rose up to protest the scandal in the Boston Archdiocese into an enduring agent to give non-clergy a greater voice in church affairs. It claims more than 30,000 members.

"We know we're going to be around for the long term," Post said.