Minn. archbishop affirms abuse victims' courage as settlement approved

Cathedral of St Paul Credit Sam Wagner Shutterstock CNA The Cathedral of Saint Paul in Saint Paul, Minnesota. | Sam Wagner/Shutterstock.

At a hearing in US bankruptcy court Tuesday, Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis told clergy abuse victims their persistence and courage have made children more safe.

At the Sept. 25 hearing, a judge approved a $210 million bankruptcy settlement between the Saint Paul and Minneapolis archdiocese and about 450 victims of clergy sex abuse.

"I need to once again say that I am truly sorry," Archbishop Hebda told the victims. "I know that those words – as well as my promise of prayers - might ring hollow for many and will never be enough. Still, I am so very sorry for the horrific things done to you by people you should have been able to trust – and as a bishop, as a priest, as a Cathoilc, and as a human being - my heart aches when I think about the resulting harm to you, your families and so many others."

He also affirmed "that your persistence and courage have made a huge difference. You have been the catalyst for needed change."

"The practices, procedures and audits we have adopted to stop future abuse may not be enough to restore your trust or belief in the Church – understandably so – but the changes you insisted upon are keeping kids safer right now. Thank you for that."

Archbishop Hebda added that "as we gratefully anticipate finalization of the settlement, I hope this resolution brings some measure of justice to you. Yet, I know that no amount of money will make up for the horrors you experienced and for the far-too-frequent failures by priests and bishops. Inexcusable failures that went on for way too long."

"Many of you have told me how difficult it is to believe. I find that devastating. I personally feel such strength in my belief in a God for whom nothing is impossible," the archbishop stated.

Referring to his pectoral cross, he said it serves as a reminder "rhat the greatest good can come from the greatest evil."

"It gives me hope that it is indeed possible for hearts to mend, suffering to ease and trust to return. As we all take next steps, be assured that that will be my hope and prayer for each of you who are survivors. I would welcome your assistance as we work to keep our children safe. I thank you for helping our Church change for the better."

The Star Tribune reports that the $210 million will be put in a trust fund, the trustee of which will allocate funds to victims, with minimum payments of $50,000.

The fund will also pay for about half of the $20 million attorney fees for the archdiocese; Jeff Anderson and Associates, who represented victims, "is expected to take an average of about 30 percent from the individual settlements of its clients."

The $210 million settlement was agreed upon by the victims and the local Church in May. It will bring the archdiocese out of bankruptcy, for which it filed in January 2015.

The amount is an increase of more than $50 million from the proposal originally submitted by the archdiocese. A federal bankruptcy judge had ordered the parties to return to mediation in January 2018, after that original submission.

The majority of the $210 million settlement, about $170 million, comes from archdiocesan and parochial insurers. The other $40 million is from diocesan and parish sources, such as cash-on-hand and the sale of interests in land.

There are no plans for additional parish appeals to fund the settlement.

When the settlement was agreed to in May, sex abuse victim Jim Keenan called it "an absolute triumph," and added, "I do believe we have made the world safer in terms of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis."

The settlement brings resolution to all pending abuse litigation against the archdiocese, parishes, and other Church entities.

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Archbishop Hebda has noted that the archdiocese has improved the way in which it addresses allegations, including the establishment of a review board that includes members who have survived past clergy abuse.

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