U.S. diocese agrees to $77 million abuse settlement

WILMINGTON, Delaware Thu Feb 3, 2011 3:51pm EST

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WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) - A Roman Catholic diocese in Delaware agreed to settle 142 claims of sexual abuse by priests for $77 million, a spokesman for the diocese said Thursday.

The settlement by the Wilmington diocese is roughly $3 million more than the diocese proposed in mid-January, when it said payouts would likely range from $75,000 to $3 million per victim, depending on the severity of the alleged abuse.

The diocese filed for bankruptcy in 2009 due to mounting sex abuse claims dating as far back as the 1950s.

In the United States, Roman Catholic archdioceses have collectively paid some $2 billion in settlements to victims since the priest sex scandals first erupted in Boston nearly a decade ago.

This settlement covers the diocese, with a Catholic population of about 233,000, and its parishes but not religious orders.

Attorney Jeff Anderson, who represented some of the Delaware victims and is a leading attorney in clergy abuse cases, praised the settlement as "welcome relief" for victims after years of litigation.

"This settlement, when approved by the court, will help them economically to further their healing but, just as important, the noneconomic reforms they devised and won will help vulnerable children now and in the future," Anderson said in a statement.

A state jury recently found the St. Elizabeth Parish, which is part of the diocese, owed purported victim John Vai $3 million.

Vai said he was molested as a teen-ager in the 1960s by Francis DeLuca, a priest who later left the priesthood.

The Wilmington diocese said its offer was higher than the average claims paid by five other diocese in bankruptcy court settlements -- Fairbanks, Alaska; Davenport, Iowa; Spokane Washington; Tucson, Arizona; and Portland, Oregon.

There have been higher settlements outside of bankruptcy. The Los Angeles archdiocese paid a $660 million settlement, estimated at $780,000 per victim, and the San Diego diocese settled for about $825,000 per victim, for a total of $198 million, according to the watchdog websiteBishopAccountability.org.

Milwaukee's Roman Catholic archdiocese said on January 4 that it would file for bankruptcy due to the financial drain of unresolved lawsuits brought by purported victims of sexual abuse by priests.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Peter Bohan)

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