December 4, 2004 in City

Diocese settles with five victims

Virginia De Leon Staff writer

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane settled with five victims of clergy sexual abuse Friday – three days before the diocese is scheduled to file for bankruptcy protection.

The total settlement amount was $664,500. Except for one uninsured claim from the late 1930s to the early 1940s, the money was paid by the diocese’s insurance carriers.

“We are pleased that we can come to a just, equitable and fair resolution of these claims with these individuals,” said the Rev. Steve Dublinski, vicar general of the Spokane Diocese. Dublinski said the diocese is hoping to settle with one other victim before the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing on Monday. The bankruptcy will have no effect on these settlements, he said.

Despite this breakthrough, the diocese is still planning to file for bankruptcy on Monday. Bishop William Skylstad in previous interviews has said that the diocese doesn’t have the money to pay the “tens of millions” in dollars that plaintiffs have demanded. He also said that Chapter 11 reorganization would provide a fair way to deal with valid claims of abuse while allowing the diocese to continue its mission in Eastern Washington.

Neither the diocese nor the victims signed a confidentiality agreement, but the diocese has chosen not to reveal the victims’ identities, Dublinski said.

Three of the victims were allegedly abused in the 1970s by Patrick O’Donnell, a priest who has admitted to abusing boys from the time he was in seminary. He was removed from ministry in 1986.

Another individual was allegedly molested by the late Joseph Knecht, who served as a priest in the Spokane Diocese from 1932 to 1956. The abuse allegedly occurred sometime during the late 1930s to the early 1940s in Chewelah, where Knecht worked from 1937 until he died of a heart attack in 1956.

The final person who settled with the diocese was the alleged victim of the late Peter O’Grady, a Jesuit priest who died in 1993. In previous interviews, Dublinski said that O’Grady worked for the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus and was engaged only in “supply work” while he served in Spokane. The alleged molestation occurred in the 1970s, while O’Grady was helping out at St. Thomas More parish.

Two of the O’Donnell claimants had been involved in lawsuits against the diocese. The rest of the claims were made without a lawsuit.

Attorneys representing the alleged O’Donnell victims who filed lawsuits could not be reached for comment Friday.

The average per-plaintiff amount in this round of settlements is higher than in the past.

In the past five years, the diocese has paid only about $272,500 in settlements to five victims.

The higher per-person average this time around was due to the fact that insurance carriers have stepped forward, Dublinski said.

Despite its announcement in mid-November that mediation talks had failed and the diocese had no choice but to file for Chapter 11, the diocese said it is still open to settling with victims.

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