LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Lawyers for five men who claim an Arkansas priest sexually abused them more than four decades ago said Thursday that the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock has settled after mediation in what the attorneys believe is a first of its kind case for the state.
Attorney Josh Gillispie, who is representing the men, said the church agreed to the settlement in May in a case involving John McDaniel, who in 1970 was an associate pastor at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Catholic Church in Little Rock.
Diocese spokesman Dennis Lee confirmed the total settlement amount was for $790,000.
Gillispie said the boys were between 12 and 15 years old and were students at Holy Souls when McDaniel abused them.
In September, the diocese included McDaniel on a since-expanded list of 12 members of the clergy who worked in Arkansas and who had credible or substantiated claims of abuse against them. McDaniel died in 1974.
In a February letter posted to the diocese website, Bishop Anthony Taylor said the diocese had not paid any money to settle legal claims regarding the priests on the list. Lee could not immediately confirm this settlement was the first for the diocese.
Gillispie said possible abuse claims are hampered by a statute of limitations for sexual abuse lawsuits, which many victims have exceeded.
“No amount of money can ever make them whole on something like this, but it’s not the amount of money that one would expect to compensate somebody for this kind of enormous permanent mental anguish,” Gillespie said. “That’s only going to happen if these things can get to a jury.”
The men, who are unidentified but are now in their late 50s and early 60s, wanted to speak out about the settlement to comfort other potential victims, Gillespie said.
“Up until very recently each of them thought that they were the only one that this guy had abused. They felt alone, and that added on tremendously to their pain and suffering over the years,” he said.
After the diocese released the names of the 12 members of the clergy against whom sexual abuse claims had been lodged, Taylor continued to update the list as additional claims were made. There are now 23 names on the list including Joseph Correnti, who the diocese says worked at Holy Souls from 1974 to 1978. McDaniel was at Holy Souls until his death.
Of the 23 clergy, 12 have had credible accusations against them in Arkansas; the remainder served in the state but had accusations against them elsewhere.
The settlement comes less than a month after U.S. bishops convened to discuss the sexual abuse crisis. Among the reforms approved is a new sex-abuse reporting hotline run by an independent entity.
By HANNAH GRABENSTEIN
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