KC-St. Joseph diocese ordered into arbitration

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Jackson County judge has ordered the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph into arbitration to determine whether it violated a 2008 settlement with 47 people who claimed they were sexually abused by priests.

The diocese agreed to the $10 million deal, which also included 19 nonmonetary stipulations, to settle all sexual abuse lawsuits pending in Jackson County against the diocese and 12 current or former priests for incidents alleged to have occurred between 1951 and 1992.

The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/Lm53kI) reports that last year, lawyers for 42 of the 47 plaintiffs who were part of the settlement demanded arbitration. They claimed the diocese had failed to live up to its commitments because of the way it handled two priests accused of sexual misconduct.

One of the priests, Shawn Ratigan, is facing state and federal child pornography charges. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, which include accusations of taking pornographic pictures of children and possessing hundreds of images.

The second priest, Michael Tierney, is facing civil lawsuits alleging he abused the plaintiffs decades ago. He also has denied any wrongdoing.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys have asked the diocese for proof that it had met state child abuse reporting requirements and followed sexual misconduct policies required by the settlement.

Lawyers for the diocese said the church has abided by the terms of the deal. David R. Frye, an attorney representing the diocese, said at a hearing last month that the settlement’s arbitration provision was meant to cover only disputes over money.

“An arbitrator overseeing the diocese on these issues in perpetuity?” Frye asked. “Not even the arbitrator would agree to that.”

Among the nonmonetary stipulations of the 2008 settlement, the diocese was to continue providing counseling for the sexual abuse victims; was barred from making job recommendations for any priests who have had sexual abuse lawsuits filed against them; and publicly acknowledged the sexual abuse in the official diocese newspaper and other media sources.

Rebecca Randles, who is representing most of the plaintiffs, said she always believed the agreement covered the diocese’s non-monetary commitments.

In her June 6 order, Jackson County Circuit Judge Peggy Stevens McGraw said language in the settlement documents was clear.

“The contract in this case contained a broad arbitration provision, which provided that any dispute regarding the contract or any related matters would be subject to arbitration. The language in the contract is unambiguous,” she said.

Barbara Dorris, a spokeswoman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the organization applauded the judge’s arbitration order.

“We hope it will mean that Bishop (Robert) Finn and other Catholic officials really will start implementing the 19 prevention steps they promised victims they’d take four years ago,” she said in a statement. “And we hope it will mean that Catholic officials across the country will be forced to honor their promises, especially those relating to children’s safety.”

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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