U.S. News

Trials postponed in U.S. Catholic diocese sex cases

WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) - A bankrupt U.S. Roman Catholic diocese has agreed to provide long-sought documents to alleged sex abuse victims in exchange for a postponement in the start of trials, an attorney for the plaintiffs said on Friday.

The Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, filed for bankruptcy last month in a move that put on hold civil trials that had been set to begin the next day.

The plaintiffs now have agreed to extend the stay of trials to co-defendants such as parishes and priests named along with the diocese, attorney James Stang said.

The agreement “reflects pluses for all survivors,” he said. “We think it will move the case forward.”

Postponing the roughly 80 civil cases allows the diocese to proceed with talks to settle claims that stem from alleged abuse going back as far as the 1950s.

In return for plaintiffs dropping the request to start those civil trials, the diocese agreed to release documents about accused priests and insurance.

Attorneys for the victims say they need the documents to help them decide how much to seek in damages.

Since a national sex-abuse scandal broke in 2002 involving priests, the Wilmington diocese has settled eight cases for an average of about $780,000 each.

Attorneys for the alleged victims have pointed to a settlement in Los Angeles as a benchmark. Claims in that diocese were settled for an average of $1.3 million each.

Friday’s agreement does not cover Delaware lawsuits filed against parishes only, or suits against religious orders. There are roughly 45 such lawsuits that can still proceed.

The case is: Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, No. 09-13560.

Editing by Xavier Briand