An historic settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed last year in Minnesota by a man who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of his priest while he served as an altar boy. Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church revealed for the first time some of the terms of the settlement, and vowed to put new procedures in place to prevent other children from being abused by clergy.
The victim is identified only as John Doe 1. Both church officials and the victim’s attorneys believe the settlement represents a major improvement in the way that sexual abuse is investigated and resolved by the church. As part of the settlement, once a report of sexual abuse is received by the archdiocese, Minnesota law enforcement must be notified. The church may not begin an internal investigation until the legal investigation is complete. In addition, the archdiocese is pledging that should any clergy member be credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor, that member will not be recommended for active ministry.
During the news conference, held in St. Paul, Minnesota, an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Andrew H. Cozzens, relayed his regret to victims of abuse and their families. After apologizing, he said, “We have heard your pain, and we are open to continuing to hear that.”
Former priest Patrick Wall, an attorney employed by the law firm that represented John Doe 1, said that very soon, it will be medical professionals and not priests or lawyers for the archdiocese who handle claims of abuse. While he admits that the process is not guaranteed to be perfect, the settlement does outline a procedure for providing the victim with fair treament, “justice and relief.”
The lawyer for John Doe 1, Jeff Anderson, said that the settlement also requires the archdiocese to disclose abuse claims to both Anderson’s firm and the public. The terms also include a requirement for all clergy to declare in writing that he has not abused a child.
The terms of the financial agreement settled upon by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona and the victim have not been made public. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which of late has been hit with multiple claims of sexual abuse by clergy, is composed of 825,000 members. As the abuse claims came to light, calls for the resignation of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, increased. Archbishop Nienstedt has said that he will not resign.
The case was filed after the passing of a Minnesota law in 2013 that removed the civil statute of limitations for children who were victims of sexual abuse. The previous limit was six years. Under the new law, which expires in the middle of 2016, victims have three years in which to file suits for past abuse they suffered as children.
Archbishop Nienstedt is currently in Africa and was not able to attend the Minnesota news conference, but did issue a statement expressing his sadness and regret to those who were abused and their families. He praised the settlement as an “historic moment.” As part of the settlement, the archbishop must send a personal apology letter bearing his signature to any victim who asks for one.
By Jennifer Pfalz
San Francisco Gate