April 22, 2006 in City

Dozens of alleged victims still await offer from diocese

Virginia De Leon Staff writer
 

Like others who have been sexually abused as children, Brynne Malone knows the deepest depths of depression – that dark lonely place where death seems like the only remedy for pain.

He blames his sleepless nights, days pervaded with anxiety, and sudden, inexplicable fits of tears on his suffering at the hands of Patrick O’Donnell, a serial pedophile and former Roman Catholic priest. Malone says the impact includes two failed marriages, frequent ulcers, anger management issues, and a feeling of loss and betrayal.

But unlike 75 victims of clergy sexual abuse who have received a $45.75 million settlement offer from the Diocese of Spokane, Malone isn’t slated to receive any money soon.

He and about 100 others with claims against the diocese were left out of the negotiations – forced to wait while others move forward.

Unlike most of the 75 now poised to receive an average settlement of $610,000, these men and women who make up what is known as the Tort Claimants’ Committee never filed lawsuits against the church.

They never hired lawyers, nor did they bring attention to themselves by protesting in front of the chancery.

Many simply approached the bishop or someone else at the diocese to tell them about the abuse they suffered. Then they waited, assuming that justice would be served.

Now, Malone and others fear they’ve been abandoned.

“I feel continually re-victimized,” said Malone, who was abused in the ‘70s when he was a student at St. Mary’s Catholic School. “I had faith that the diocese was going to come through.”

Malone is one of 25 O’Donnell victims who were left out of the settlement offer, according to records filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. That group also includes many others who were abused by James O’Malley, the late Joseph Knecht, Theodore Bradley and other priests who have been identified as the same perpetrators by those who have already received an offer from the diocese.

When he filed for bankruptcy protection more than a year ago, Bishop William Skylstad said he had no choice – the mounting number of sex-abuse claims forced him to make that fateful decision. He also said he wanted to be “fair, just and equitable” to all the victims and to prevent “a race to the courthouse.”

Some say that hasn’t happened. In its efforts to negotiate with one group of victims – those represented by attorneys and known as the Tort Litigants Committee – the diocese ended up alienating the other. The settlement offer isn’t just unfair, they say, but also doesn’t adhere to bankruptcy law, which requires that all creditors – in this case, sexual abuse victims – be treated equally.

The diocese has had only one meeting with the TCC after announcing the settlement offer with the 75 victims on Feb. 1, said Joe Shickich, the attorney representing the TCC. That meeting was spent discussing the details of the proposed settlement, but no offer was extended to the other group, he said.

Skylstad, however, has stated that he has not forgotten the other victims. “I want to make clear that neither I nor the diocese intended by the settlement offer … to ignore or leave behind those victims not included in the offer,” he said in a press release issued in early February.

More than two months later, settlement talks between the diocese and the TCC have yet to happen. “The diocese has not negotiated with us,” Shickich said.

Originally, there was only one creditors’ committee representing victims of abuse, but a split happened in early 2005 after some victims objected to Malone and two other committee appointees, whom they labeled as “church loyalists.”

Although he grew up in a devout Catholic family with strong ties to the church, Malone insists he wasn’t “planted by the diocese,” as others have accused him of being. In fact, he has contacted the diocese only once in his adult life – on Good Friday in 2002, to tell the bishop that he was a victim of Patrick O’Donnell.

It never occurred to him to file a lawsuit, he said. Yes, he wanted compensation for the pain he endured, but he didn’t think he needed a lawyer.

“No money is going to take away my pain,” said Malone, 45. “I don’t get a do-over. What I want is a heartfelt, sincere apology and I didn’t think a lawsuit would give me that.”

It hurts, he said, to be left out, to hear some attorneys say that the claims filed by those in the TCC are “less egregious” than the ones suffered by the other group. Like many of the O’Donnell victims, he, too, was groomed by the priest who has since admitted to molesting so many boys that he can’t even remember their names.

Despite all he’s been through, Malone refuses to give up hope. Nor does he wish to criticize his fellow victims, even those who have already reached a settlement.

He still has faith in the legal process, he said. And although he no longer wants to be part of the Catholic Church, his faith in God remains strong.

“I want to see the diocese continue to serve its people,” he said. “At the same time, I want there to be empathy for victims. And I want to see all the victims treated fairly …

“I want to be whole again. I don’t want this poison in my life anymore.”

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