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Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg releases new details of money spent on sexual abuse cases

Over the past two decades, the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg has spent $4.7 million to settle sexual abuse cases.

Bishop Robert N. Lynch made the revelation in a letter tucked into church bulletins over Memorial Day weekend.

Lynch said in the letter he was providing the information "in a spirit of transparency."

"Given the stories that have come out internationally and nationally regarding sexual misconduct by priests and others, I wanted to issue an updated report at this time," wrote the bishop, who last gave a report addressing the scandal in May 2006.

In his letter, Lynch said $1.8 million has been paid out during the past five years, with an additional $273,000 to assist victims with counseling and $123,000 in legal fees and costs. About 20 percent of the money paid out over the past 21 years was covered by insurance, with the remainder drawn from insurance reserves.

"We have never appealed for special funds or conducted our annual pastoral appeal to cover these financial commitments," Lynch wrote.

A local victims' advocate is surprised at the sums involved.

"That's a lot of money," said Martha Jean Lorenzo, Tampa Bay area representative for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. SNAP claims more than 10,000 members in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe.

In January, SNAP revealed that the diocese had agreed to a $75,000 settlement with a man who accused Monsignor Norman Balthazar, a former priest at Christ the King in Tampa, of sexual abuse. SNAP had accused Lynch of keeping silent about the allegations against Balthazar and the settlement. Diocese spokesman Frank Murphy confirmed the settlement and said then that since the alleged abuse happened to an adult, the diocese did not have to make it public.

Around the country, the church has made much larger payouts. In 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay $660 million to more than 500 victims. That same year, the Diocese of San Diego agreed to a settlement that would pay close to $200 million to 144 victims. In March, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, an order of Catholic priests, agreed to pay $166 million to more than 500 American Indians and Alaska natives abused at the order's boarding schools.

In his letter to parishioners, Lynch said a total of 12 priests have been involved in 69 "credible" cases of sexual misconduct involving minors. Two of those priests were responsible for 49 cases. Four of the priests worked locally, but had come from other dioceses. Additionally, seven minors were abused by three lay employees. A list of those accused is posted on the diocese's website.

Lorenzo said the list is incomplete since it does not include names of priests from other dioceses who have served locally. Balthazar, the former Christ the King priest, also is not listed. Murphy said his "was not a credible accusation with a minor."

Lynch previewed his "letter to the people of the Diocese of St. Petersburg" in his blog before it appeared in parish bulletins. In it, he apologized to victims "for the psychological, emotional and faith harm" caused and "the deep pain and distrust which lingers." In his blog he asked fellow Catholics to understand their pain.

Lorenzo called the bishop's sentiments "appropriate and noteworthy."

"I think that Bishop Lynch has really grown in his ability to sift through the pain and suffering that victims endure daily and I am hopeful as a leader in the SNAP organization that he will continue to give each victim and his and her story the utmost courtesy and fair outcome," she said.

Lynch wrote that issuing the report was difficult, "because it reopens wounds caused by those who have hurt our children." Though he wrote that he takes comfort in several things, among them that safeguards appear to be working. Accusations of sexual misconduct against minors have diminished and nearly all allegations are more than 20 years old, he wrote.

"The most important thing I can do as your bishop is to take steps to ensure that we, as the church here in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, do everything reasonably possible to protect our children and vulnerable adults," wrote the bishop, whose diocese of 425,000 Catholics covers Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this article. Reach Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

On the web

To read the letter by Bishop Robert N. Lynch and see the list of priests, visit www.dosp.org.

Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg releases new details of money spent on sexual abuse cases 06/01/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 2, 2011 9:04am]
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