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Church Settles Child Abuse Case

By Christopher B. Daly
The Washington Post


In the largest case of its kind, 68 men and women who said they were sexually abused as children by a Catholic priest in the 1960s announced a settlement Thursday that will provide substantial monetary damages and changes in church policy.

The alleged victims of the former priest, James R. Porter, said through their attorney that they saw the settlement as an acknowledgment by the church that its leaders mishandled Porter three decades ago, when he allegedly raped, fondled and abused dozens of boys and girls in his care.

The group also described the settlement as a turning point in the Catholic church's current thinking about sexual abuse, which has emerged from a shroud of silence into a focus for reform.

Over the past 10 years, as many as 800 cases involving charges of sexual abuse of children by pedophiliac priests have either been filed as lawsuits or settled quietly out of court by Roman Catholic dioceses, according to a Baltimore therapist who has worked with organizations of sexual abuse victims.

Richard Sipe, a former priest and author of a study of sexuality and priestly celibacy, said victims' attorneys count about 400 legal cases filed against church officials since 1982. "And I say that for each case that's public and legal, there's one that's silent and settled," he said.

Porter, 57, who was not a party to the agreement announced Thursday, also faces criminal trial in Minneapolis, where opening arguments were scheduled to begin Thursday. The former priest, who is married with four children, faces charges that he molested a teen-ager who was a babysitter for his children in 1987. He left the priesthood in 1973.

In addition, Porter faces 46 counts of sexual misconduct involving 32 people whom he allegedly abused in Bristol County, Mass., when Porter served as a parish priest in Fall River, New Bedford and Attleboro. He also faces civil suits from other alleged victims.

Porter has pleaded innocent to all the charges, but in a taped conversation with a Boston television station he acknowledged that he had molested 50 to 100 children.

Details of the settlement between the 68 victims, who call themselves "survivors" of Porter's abuse, and the Diocese of Fall River, where the alleged abuse took place, were not revealed.

Although the case never went to trial and no "gag order" was issued, both sides agreed to keep financial details private.

Sipe, said that in similar cases settlements have averaged "$100,000 to $125,000 (per victim), when they're settled quietly" and when confidentiality statements have been signed.

Experts on church finance said the Fall River bishop will be responsible for finding the funds and may try to arrange loans from the parishes in his region. The experts also said the bishop could appeal for funds to his fellow bishops, but most of them are hard-pressed for cash themselves.