April 1, 2006 in City

Seattle church taps reserve funds

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review
 

SEATTLE – The Seattle Archdiocese has dug into its reserve funds to cover the cost of settling sex abuse claims, church officials said.

Payments to victims plus counseling and attorneys’ fees now total $26 million over the past 19 years, a church audit showed. The archdiocese has paid the settlements and other expenses through a combination of insurance and reserve funds from the sale of property more than 20 years ago.

The information was released Thursday as part of a national update on clergy abuse.

The reserve fund was tapped because cumulative costs exceeded the archdiocese’s self-insurance program, spokesman Greg Magnoni said.

The archdiocese remains financially solvent and has avoided the problems that caused the Spokane and Portland dioceses to file for bankruptcy protection, he said.

Last year, the cost of the claims rose by about $8 million. In 2005, the archdiocese received six new allegations of clergy child sex abuse against six previously accused priests, in addition to allegations against 12 members of the Congregation of Christian Brothers religious order. All the 2005 accusations relate to incidents from 1955 to the mid-1980s.

The Christian Brothers’ accusations center around the Briscoe Memorial School for Boys, a boarding school the brothers operated in Kent until the early 1970s. The accused priests and brothers are deceased or have been removed from ministry or defrocked.

Since 1950, 53 priests from the Seattle Archdiocese have been accused of sex abuse by 202 individuals.

The archdiocese said it was still waiting to hear what will happen concerning accusations against two inactive priests. Those cases were being reviewed by the Vatican.

In a Thursday news release from the Seattle Archdiocese, Archbishop Alex J. Brunett again apologized to victims.

“I am aware of their pain and I reaffirm my personal commitment to provide counseling and pastoral care to every victim in order to heal the wounds of abuse and bring closure to all who have been harmed,” Brunett said.

Magnoni said settlements of pending cases will determine whether the diocese needs to dip further into its reserves. He said the church doesn’t expect to have to use general operating funds or parish money.

“As long as we continue to make settlements for fair and reasonable amounts, which we have for the past 18 years, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to cover the costs associated with sexual abuse,” he said.

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