Minn. archbishop hopeful that abuse settlement will help bring healing

Archbishop Hebda speaking at archdiocese press conference CNA Screenshot: Archbishop Hebda speaking at a May 31 press conference.

Announcing a $210 million agreement with sexual abuse victims, Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis said he hopes the settlement will mark a new beginning for abuse survivors and the local Church.

"With the settlement today, we reaffirm our efforts to protect children and vulnerable adults," Archbishop Hebda said at a May 31 press conference.

"Even in this moment of taking another step toward providing justice to survivors of abuse, we know our work in this regard is not complete," he said. "Our Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment team will continue its work on demonstrable actions to ensure that our churches, schools and communities are safe places for all."

He noted that the December 2015 child safety policies established by the archdiocese – which include training every volunteer and employee who works with children about how to recognize and prevent abuse – continue to be the national standard for maintaining safe environments.

Thanking the victims who have come forward to share their stories, he offered an apology on behalf of the Church.

"I recognize that the abuse stole so much from you – your childhood, your innocence, your safety, your ability to trust, and in many cases, your faith," he said, voicing hope that the settlement, which comes after more than two years of deliberation, will bring closure for victims and allow them to take the next step in the healing process.

The agreement announced by the archdiocese Thursday includes a plan for abuse compensation as well as for bringing the archdiocese out of bankruptcy.

The amount of the settlement is $210 million, said Tom Abood, chair of the Archdiocesan Finance Council, who negotiated the agreement. This is an increase of more than $50 million from the proposal that the archdiocese had originally submitted.

In January 2015, the archdiocese had filed for bankruptcy, saying many abuse claims had been made possible under Minnesota legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court.

The initial plan proposed by the archdiocese included $156 million for survivors who filed claims. That plan would have drawn about $120 million in insurance settlements and $30 million from the archdiocese and some of its parishes. Victims' attorneys said it was inadequate and did not include insurers and parishes sufficiently.

In January 2018, a federal bankruptcy judge ordered a return to mediation for all the parties involved.

Under the final plan, the majority of the money – about $170 million – comes from insurance carriers for the archdiocese and individual parishes. The other $40 million is from diocesan and parish sources, such as cash-on-hand and the sale of interests in land.

Details of the final plan will be released in the coming days, Abood said.

Sources close to the archdiocese told CNA that between 33 and 40 percent of the settlement amount is likely to be consumed by plaintiffs' attorney fees.

According to attorney Jeff Anderson, whose firm represents the abuse survivors, this is the largest settlement ever reached in a Catholic abuse case.

Anderson said that 450 survivors were included in the bankruptcy reorganization case, and 91 offenders were exposed and listed as credibly accused offenders who had never before been listed and exposed.

Jim Keenan, who was sexually abused by a priest at age 13, called the settlement "an absolute triumph" for victims.

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He emphasized the need for continued vigilance in preventing abuse, but added, "I do believe we have made the world safer in terms of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis."

Marie Milke, another victim, spoke about the power of healing that renewed her desire to be alive.

"We're all aware of bad priests, but I have to acknowledge a few good priests," she added, pointing to her uncle, who is a priest, and two other priests who fight for victims. "I think it's important to know that there are still good priests, I want to thank you for not being afraid and to keep fighting for us."

Abood noted that this settlement will bring a resolution to all pending abuse litigation against the archdiocese, parishes, and other Church entities.

Archbishop Hebda said he hopes that the settlement, which will also complete the archdiocese's bankruptcy process, can mark a new beginning and allow for atonement, healing and restoration of trust.

"I sure hope, for those who have been harmed in the past, that this brings closure for them," he said, stressing that the Church wants to be partners in healing, and not adversaries.

"I ask that we enter this new day together, in hope and in love," he said.

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