Judge Orders More Mediation to Resolve Minn. Clergy-Abuse Settlements

Disputes over clergy-abuse settlements in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis led a federal bankruptcy judge to order a return to mediation.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Disputes over clergy-abuse settlements in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have led a federal bankruptcy judge to order a return to mediation for all the parties involved.

“Judge Kressel’s decision bolsters our resolve to move forward in the bankruptcy process,” Tom Abood, chairman of the archdiocese’s reorganization task force, said Dec. 28. “We are guided by his words from earlier this year, that the longer this process continues, the less money will be available for those who have been harmed.”

Abood voiced gratitude that the judge has dismissed claims from creditors’ attorneys that the archdiocese has acted in bad faith in the reorganization.

“We look to engage with all participants in mediation, as directed by the judge, to bring a prompt and fair resolution,” said Abood.

The archdiocese, insurance companies, parishes, a creditors’ committee and sex-abuse survivors are involved in seeking a settlement for more than 400 victims. The process has lasted more than two years.

Judge Robert Kressel’s Dec. 28 ruling said the plan presented by abuse survivors required too much time and money to carry out. He said the archdiocese’s plan lacked sufficient financial accountability from the parishes involved, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

“Therefore,” his order said, “I expect all the parties to return to mediation. And I expect them to mediate in good faith.”

In January 2015, the archdiocese had filed for bankruptcy, saying many abuse claims had been made possible under Minnesota legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court.

“The public record certainly demonstrates that, for decades, the response of officials from the archdiocese to the sexual abuse of children was disgraceful,” Judge Kressel said, adding that the record shows the archdiocese is “taking steps to do better and to remedy some of those wrongs.”

The committee representing abuse survivors had composed a plan calling for tougher settlements with insurance companies and much larger contributions from the archdiocese. The archdiocese, parishes and insurance companies objected to the plan, saying its effect would be “liquidating” the archdiocese.

From the archdiocese came a proposed plan that included $156 million for survivors who filed claims. The plan would draw about $120 million in insurance settlements and $30 million from the archdiocese and some of its parishes. Victims’ attorneys said it was inadequate and did not include insurers and parishes adequately.

Jeff Anderson, an attorney for the sex-abuse victims, said more than 90% of abuse victims voted against the plan. He said the judge’s ruling could mean a faster settlement.

Jim Keenan, who was sexually abused by a priest at age 13 and now chairs the creditors’ committee that represents the survivors, said the ruling is “absolutely phenomenal for us.”

“We need a fair and just settlement and to make sure this never happens again,” he said.

The survivors’ committee has said the archdiocese should contribute $80 million instead of $15 million.

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