Del. diocese settles with abuse claimants for $77M

February 2, 2011 7:37:01 PM PST
The Diocese of Wilmington settled a lawsuit Wednesday with nearly 150 alleged victims of sexual abuse, awarding them more than $77 million.

The agreement also called for the diocese to fully disclose church documents relating to the abuse. The lawsuits claimed child sexual abuse by dozens of diocesan and religious order priests dating to the early 1960s.

Anthony Flynn, a lawyer for the diocese, said the settlement provided "fair compensation for victims." The money will come from a trust fund.

Attorney Thomas Neuberger, who represented 99 of the 146 alleged victims, was also satisfied.

"After a seven-year fight we are on our way to fair compensation for survivors," he said.

The abuse cases created a potential liability that drove the diocese to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009, and a judge put trials against the parishes on hold. But in August, Judge Christopher Sontchi ruled that lawsuits against several parishes could go forward.

On Dec. 1, a Delaware jury awarded $30 million in damages to a man who claimed he was abused by a priest - a verdict that was exceptional for both the amount and for finding the local parish liable, not just the diocese.

The lawsuit by John Vai claimed that he was abused repeatedly as a boy in the 1960s by Francis DeLuca when the former priest was a teacher at St. Elizabeth's parish in Wilmington.

Advocates for victims of clergy abuse said the value of the compensatory damages was the largest ever awarded in such a lawsuit in the United States and that a parish had never before been found liable for abuse.

The Associated Press typically does not name victims of sexual abuse, but Vai has spoken publicly about the allegations and testified at trial.

The settlement still needs approval from the bankruptcy judge.


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