After what are being described as “marathon negotiations” between attorneys for the victims and the Diocese of Wilmington, the church has agreed to settle the cases for $77 million.
The settlement is still pending the approval of U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Christopher Sontchi. The agreement sets up a trust in the amount of $77,425,000 which will be divided among the victims.
In addition to the money, the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington has also agreed to open its secret archives and establish procedures to prevent future child abuse. Attorney Thomas Neuberger, who was co-counsel for 99 abuse survivors says it’s been a long fight. “Today we declare victory after our seven year war. The secret archives are open. The truth of the long cover up is now out in public,” Neuberger said.
That archive collection includes items that have been hidden from public view since the Diocese was founded in 1868. Attorney Thomas Crumplar says the archives consists of thousands of documents. “It includes the Bishop’s diary. Many things we’ve never seen. We may have to get some Latin scholars because, supposedly we learned in discovery, that when they had things they didn’t want to talk about, they wrote it in Latin so that people couldn’t see it.”
A group of victims gathered in Neuberger’s Wilmington office to talk about the settlement Thursday afternoon. Mary Dougherty was one of those victims. “Survivors never have closure. Maybe a sense of peace, but there is never closure. Any child, and it’s not just us, any child that is sexually abused never forgets. It stays with you forever,” she said.
Othell Heaney’s son, Kevin, killed himself in 1987 after being abused by a priest. She says the settlement is bittersweet. “I wonder how many people knew about the abuse, and did nothing to help him. This today is to protect other children in the future. That’s the most important thing that we can do. By forcing the Diocese to make preventative changes, kids will be safer and our state will be a better place to live in.”
The Diocese issued a statement from Bishop W. Francis Malooly, “Since the beginning of the bankruptcy, our goals have been to fairly compensate all survivors of clergy sexual abuse, and to honor our obligations to our creditors and lay employees to the best of our ability.” Malooly says, “We feel that these goals have been met by this settlement.”
Now that the Diocese has settled, Neuberger says he now plans to go after three religious orders which had been part of the sexual abuse lawsuits in addition to the Diocese. Those orders are the Oblates, which operate Salesianum School in Wilmington, the Capucians, and the Norbertines, which founded Archmere Academy in Claymont. Neuberger says, “We are now moving forward aiming our guns at the three remaining religious orders, who we are told have a pool of at least $80 million in insurance policies alone to compensate survivors.”