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Denver Archdiocese settles 18 sex-abuse cases

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2008

DENVER | The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver announced Tuesday that it had agreed to pay $5.5 million to settle 18 claims of childhood sexual abuse against three now-deceased priests, bringing the archdiocese's total payout in such cases to $8.2 million.

"It is my hope that these settlements help the victims and their families to heal," said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who apologized on behalf of the church at a press conference here.

All but one of the 16 lawsuits and two claims involved two priests - Harold Robert White and Leonard Abercrombie - in incidents occurring between 1954 and 1981 in Colorado.

The last case involved a monsignor, Lawrence St. Peter, who had not been publicly named before.

The settlement nearly brings to a close a three-year legal struggle over charges of childhood abuse brought by the 14 victims, now adult men and women, and the Denver Archdiocese.

The archdiocese now has two childhood sexual-abuse lawsuits pending, one involving Father Abercrombie and the other against Thomas Barry, who also is deceased. Efforts to mediate the two cases have been rejected, according to an archdiocese statement.

Archdiocese officials established an independent mediation panel in May 2006 in an effort to settle the cases instead of having them brought to court.

The Colorado allegations represent a small portion of the thousands of accusations involving sexual abuse of minors made against Catholic priests since 2002. Nearly every U.S. diocese has been forced to grapple with the issue as now-adult victims seek redress for the abuse.

Archbishop Chaput said the scandal has had devastating consequences for the church´s reputation, both in the world and among its followers.

"I think that the whole church is hugely mortified, embarrassed by this - that this could happen at the church seems impossible in the minds of so many of our people," said Archbishop Chaput.

"It´s had a huge impact on the life of the church. Of course, the people it´s impacted the most are the victims," he said.

The plaintiffs were victims of "horrific child sex abuse by predatory priests and cover-ups by church officials," according to a statement issued by Thomas Roberts and Jeff Anderson, the attorneys who represented the victims.

Mr. White, who was ultimately defrocked, was accused of abusing a dozen children as church officials shuttled him to 11 parishes, beginning in the 1960s. He died at age 73 in 2006 of an apparent heart attack while vacationing in Mexico.

The largest church sex-abuse settlement came in July 2007, when the Archdiocese of Los Angeles paid $660 million to resolve claims with more than 500 victims.