Saturday, August 29, 2009

Archdiocese finds no racial bias in sex abuse settlements

Archdiocese finds no racial bias in sex abuse settlements

August 27, 2009

Reacting to criticism that the Archdiocese of Chicago treated black victims of priest sex abuse worse than whites, the church analyzed financial settlements and found "no overall difference" in payouts between races.

That's according to a strongly worded "background" memorandum recently sent to priests and deacons by a top archdiocesan official, the Rev. John Canary. The stated aim of the memo -- obtained by ChicagoCatholicNews -- is to help clergy "prepare to communicate with . . . parishioners about this and other important issues."

"The Archdiocese has never considered race to be a factor in evaluating clerical misconduct claims, so we never compiled the numbers in this fashion," according to the Aug. 21 memo. "Each claim is evaluated individually and the amounts of the settlements vary based on the abuse that took place. Recently, we did an historical review of all the settlements the Archdiocese has reached with sexual abuse survivors. There is no overall difference between the amounts of settlements paid to African American survivors and those paid to others."

The memo from Canary (pictured above) also indicated "the average amount of the settlements reached with the survivors who identified themselves in the recent media coverage was significantly higher than the average settlement amount paid in all the Archdiocesan clerical misconduct claims."

Phillip Aaron, an attorney for black sex abuse victims featured earlier this month in an NBC5 story on alleged racial disparity, called such talk "smoke and mirrors."

"For a comparable injury, [black abuse victims] were paid less," Aaron said in an interview. "If you look at injury to injuries, they were paid less, and not just that, they were demeaned [when they came forward], they were treated bad -- this isn't me saying this, this is the client."

What's more, Aaron claimed he's being pressured by archdiocesan officials to retract the race-related allegations if he wants to proceed with other abuse cases.

"They say they won't mediate or arbitrate unless I make some sort of public statement that my clients are not discriminated against, and I'm not going to do that," he said.

Top church lawyers referred questions to the archdiocese communications office, which did not respond to calls and emails Wednesday and Thursday. Canary also did not respond to calls and emails from ChicagoCatholicNews.

As such, details on the archdiocese's "historical review" were not available.

Also unclear is whether the memo from Canary -- the archdiocese's vicar general -- represents a new public relations strategy by the archdiocese, which includes 2.3 million Catholics in Cook and Lake counties.

Cardinal Francis George's press secretary Colleen Dolan recently authored a similar "talking points" memo on priest sex abuse. Marked confidential, it was distributed to parishes to help priests answer questions from the press and parishioners -- and it made its way toABC7 reporter Chuck Goudie.

That document was denounced as "spin" by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, whose leaders have long criticized the Catholic Church for its handling of sex abuse claims.

In the new memo, Canary mentions that the Catholic Church for decades has served the black community in the areas of schools and civil rights, among others.

"From the 1960s onward, the Archdiocese remained committed to African American communities, even when other institutions moved out," he wrote.

Two Chicago-area clergymen confirmed that they received the document.

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