SNAP critical of legal fees to victim payout ratio -

SNAP critical of legal fees to victim payout ratio

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The St. Louis Archdiocese has released financial figures showing it spent $352,000 last fiscal year on payments to victims of predator priests -- and more than twice that amount on lawyers.

Numbers released by the archdiocese Friday show more was paid in legal fees than to victims for five of the past 10 fiscal years.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said Monday that fewer cases of clergy sex abuse are being filed, so legal costs should be declining. From 2002 to 2008, legal fees rose steadily to a high of $1.1 million. The archdiocese reported spending $843,000 in fiscal year 2009.

David Clohessy, SNAP's national director, said a disproportionate amount of money is being spent fighting victims rather than helping them.

"More and more, the archdiocese is playing legal hardball with victims," Clohessy said.

"It shows a continued emphasis on a legalistic and defensive posture, rather than a really compassionate and preventive one," he added.

Archdiocese attorney Bernard Huger said it attempts to deal with credible cases of clergy abuse through mediation, and as many as 90 percent of the cases have been resolved that way. When mediation fails and a lawsuit is filed, the archdiocese has to respond to the litigation, and that gets expensive, he said.

The report also shows no money was spent the past four years on counseling offending clergy. By contrast, $245,000 was spent on counseling in 2002.

Some priests have finished counseling, while others have left the priesthood, Huger said.

The financial report shows that over the past 10 years, $1.7 million more was paid to victims than in legal fees. Victims received a total of $7.6 million, and lawyers were paid $5.9 million.

The amount paid to victims each year has varied from a low of $11,000 in 2002 -- the year the clergy abuse crisis began to get national attention -- to a high of $2.5 million two years later. The second-largest amount paid out was $1.8 million in 2005. The third was $1.3 million in 2008. Then in 2009, the sum dropped to $352,000.

The archdiocese set up a mediation process in 2003 after national reports of abuse spurred complaints in St. Louis, Huger said. In 2004, the archdiocese began using a private mediation service unaffiliated with the church.

It takes time for the two sides to meet, assess the credibility of accusations and prepare for mediation sessions, Huger said. But once a session beings, it's not uncommon for the attorneys and their clients to reach a resolution in a day, he said.

Settlement amounts often consider the cost of counseling, education and other needs, he said.

The archdiocese said none of the payments associated with clergy sexual misconduct came from parish collections or private contributions to the Annual Catholic Appeal, which supports parishes, schools, food pantries, immigrants and refugees, people with HIV, aging priests, and other programs.

Legal fees are paid by the archdiocese's insurance, Huger said. Settlements come from the sale of real estate or other investments.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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