Thoughts on the Sexual Abuse Crisis in San Diego

On September 14, 2007 the Catholic Diocese of San Diego and Bishop Robert Brom agreed to pay $198.1 million to more than 150 survivors of sexual abuse from priests. This is (hopefully) the final chapter of a long and painful story. Unfortunately it’s a story that does not reflect well on either Bishop Brom or the Diocese.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone does not know that many dioceses are struggling with this. The biggest struggle they and the courts face is how to compensate the victims. We can’t turn back time and frankly the only way anyone is compensated is financially. That said, it’s probably reasonable to see how other dioceses have compensated their victims. In 2003 the Archdiocese of Boston paid out $85 million to cover 552 lawsuits (that averages slightly over $150,000 per person). The settlements have been increasing: last July the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay $660 million to settle 508 cases (or just under $1.3 million per person).

Last February the San Diego Diocese was facing the first of the trials and Bishop Brom decided to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the hopes that a fund would be dedicated to settle the cases. It was a good try but it backfired. Everyone I know who knows the bishop says that he does not like being told what to do. I don’t know how this happened but apparently it never occurred to Bishop Brom that he would be answerable to the bankruptcy judge. Things began to spin out of control when the Diocese was accused of hiding assets. Accounts had been set up in many places for many reasons and it never occurred to anyone that they would be subject to judicial scrutiny. The accountant appointed by the bankruptcy judge called this “byzantine;” I would call it disorganized. The upshot was that the judge threatened to pull the diocese out of bankruptcy and begin the trials. It was probably the push the diocese needed to come to a settlement.

The Diocese agreed to a settlement that averages $1.375 million per person. In March the diocese offered a settlement of $95 million (a little over $600,000 per person) and insisted that this was the most they could afford without adversely hampering the church’s mission. Now they have agreed to pay out nearly double that; we’ll see what happens.

On September 7th Bishop Brom released this letter. It is, hopefully, the end of a long and painful journey.

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