Judge upholds order for breach-of-terms payment in Kansas City

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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A circuit judge has upheld an arbiter's decision that the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese pay $1.1 million for breach of terms of a 2008 settlement that included measures intended to prevent further sexual abuse of children by clergy.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Bryan E. Round ruled Aug. 14 that "there can be no doubt that the diocese, through its leadership and higher-level personnel, failed in numerous respects to abide by the terms" of the 2008 settlement, according to The Kansas City Star. In addition to awarding $10 million to 47 plaintiffs, that settlement included 19 nonmonetary commitments aimed at preventing abuse and helping survivors.

"The Diocese paid less in damages for agreeing to the non-economic terms demanded by the Plaintiffs," Round said in his decision. "When the Diocese breached the non-economic commitments, it effectively received the benefits without paying for it."

Jack Smith, diocesan spokesman, told NCR it will not appeal the decision.

In a short statement, the diocese said, "While [it] disputes many of the arbitrator's findings and opinions, it will continue to honor its pledge to provide a safe and protective environment to children and other vulnerable persons." The diocese also encouraged those suspecting abuse to call the Missouri child abuse hotline or the local police, and if it involves the church, to contact the diocesan ombudsman, Jenifer Valenti.

In 2011, 44 plaintiffs to the 2008 settlement sued the diocese, alleging it had not honored the nonmonetary commitments. Specifically, they cited the diocese's failure to report former priest Shawn Ratigan in December 2010 when it learned he had child pornography on his computer. Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in prison in September 2013; a year earlier, Bishop Robert Finn was convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to report suspected child abuse.

In March, arbitrator Hollis Hanover found the diocese violated five of the 19 child safety measures. His decision remained confidential until June when the diocese asked the circuit court to vacate the order.

[Related: "SNAP blasts Missouri diocese for arbitration dispute"]

Survivors of sexual abuse and their supporters touted the arbiter's decision as a groundbreaking effort to hold a bishop responsible in court for breaking promises made in a settlement.

The $1.1 million settlement breaks down to $650,000 in damages (approximately $15,000 per person) and $450,000 in legal fees.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

A version of this story appeared in the Aug 29-Sept 11, 2014 print issue under the headline: Judge upholds order for breach-of-terms payment in Kansas City.

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