Chapter Nine: Settlement Day?

"Settlement" conveys finality, but on November 20, 2008, what might have been a final "Settlement Day" for the survivors of sexual abuse in the Springfield Diocese (dating back to as far as 1948 for the earliest claim) was instead a day of dubious achievement. Under the terms of the settlement, the final payments were scheduled to be made on November 20 for close to 60 claims made against the diocese.

But, an occasion which might have carried an air of finality, and maybe even hope, instead feels quite different, at least to me. I can't shake the feeling that this is a milestone that may be a millstone, dragging the Diocese and it's members further down, instead of lifting us up.

For proof, look at the tone of the announcements back in July, which ranged from calculated understatement from Bishop McDonnell to calculated overstatement by our lawyer, Mr. Egan, who found that "we were right all along", though he failed to explain how, if we were so right, we left $3.5 million on the table. Still, there was hope in July that the faithful Catholics of the Diocese would hear details of the settlement, other than the fact that it was reached. But, it was not to be.

It is remarkable to me how little coverage of the settlement has appeared in the Catholic Observer, the official newspaper of the Diocese. There were three articles in the July 11 issue. But, over the next 9 issues, there was only an account of how many had accepted the settlement on August 22. This falls far short of what was supposed to happen, according to the Dallas Norms.

Shortly after the 2004 settlement, attorney John Stobierski commented in the Springfield Republican: "The Dallas norms set forth the fact that these settlements will not be done in secret any longer. To that end, my clients want the names of priests who allegedly abused them made public".

Let's look closer at these guidelines from the Dallas Charter published on Dec. 8, 2002, by the U.S. bishops, in the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" (Revised Edition)

ARTICLE 3. Dioceses… will not enter into confidentiality agreements except for grave and substantial reasons brought forward by the victim/survivor and noted in the text of the agreement.

ARTICLE 7. Each diocese… will develop a communications policy that reflects a commitment to transparency and openness. Within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved, dioceses… will deal as openly as possible with members of the community. This is especially so with regard to assisting and supporting parish communities directly affected by ministerial misconduct involving minors.

Reading these noble goals of the Charter, and comparing them to the response of the Springfield Diocese over the five months before Settlement Day, November 20, I'm wondering: Where is the transparency? Where is the openness?

Please, if you haven't already, go to the editorial in the Diocesan newspaper, written at a critical moment, and tell me – does it seem that management has learned something? does the response demonstrate transparency? does it feel open, contrite, and vulnerable? or, does it feel like something else entirely?

If you go to the Diocesan web site right now ( you will find nothing about the settlement. It is as if it had never happened. The only exception to this is that some digging may unearth the press releases from July 2. By the way, speaking of open communication, there is not even a way to email the bishop on the web site.

When the church media will not do the job, it falls to other media to step up. While the Springfield Republican and Berkshire Eagle have been diligent, they cannot do it all. So maybe it's understandable that even though the Springfield Republican published a list of all accused priests from the 2004 settlement on Aug. 17, 2004, a companion list for 2008 has not appeared.

But, since this type of disclosure is certainly encouraged, if not mandated, by the Dallas Norms, we are entitled to ask: why did the Diocese not follow suit, and publish such a list in 2004? Why did no information about the 2004 settlement get posted and remain on their web site? And, a more current question, why has the Diocese not used their web site to publish information about the 2008 settlement, and list the accused priests?

Another question. Knowing all that we do about the goals of the Dallas Norms listed above, why is it that the latest round of victims were forced to sign confidentiality agreements, in apparent violation of the norms, consisting of some 16 pages? All of these questions remain unanswered.

For this reason, the date of November 20, 2008, though it promised to be a Settlement Day, did not signal "finality" for the survivors of sexual abuse in the Diocese.