Diocese sues insurance company for millions on abuse settlement claims

CHARLESTON—The Diocese of Charleston filed a lawsuit in February against an insurance company for refusing to pay out on millions of dollars in claims. Those claims included reimbursement for monies paid to the victims of sexual abuse by priests or Church personnel.

The settlements being disputed were for victims of abuse which occurred between the early 1950s to the late 1970s. Various insurance companies covered the diocese for general liability during that time, but those policies were eventually bought out by ACE-USA, said A. Peter Shahid Jr., general counsel for the diocese.

No court date has been set for the lawsuit against ACE-USA affiliated insurance companies. Shahid said despite repeated demands, the company has denied they are responsible for reimbursement and refuses to pay the benefits for the claims under their policies.

“We believe that the amount of money we paid out that would be under their umbrellas is close to $11 million,” he said.

Those claims would be applied to the costs of the Diocese of Charleston’s 2007 class action settlement agreement with the victims of sexual abuse. The diocese entered into a class action settlement to address all credible abuse allegations against clergy, religious and lay diocesan personnel. It resulted in a settlement of nearly $12 million for claims and expenses. The diocese stated in its 2008 financial report that those costs were funded from insurance proceeds and reserves, and accumulated investment income.

The class action settlement, which closed in 2008, provided compensation to a total of 123 claimants — 49 primary claimants, or individuals who claimed they were abused by Church personnel, and 74 loss of consortium claimants, who are spouses and parents.

Between 1950 to the present, 32 priests have been accused with a credible allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor in which the abuse occurred within the Diocese of Charleston, said Maria Aselage, media relations director, in a statement to The Catholic Miscellany. A credible allegation has to meet one of three criteria: the diocese paid out money related to the allegation, the priest or Church personnel confessed to the allegation, or the allegation was determined credible by an independent source, i.e., a judge or the Sexual Abuse Advisory Board.

Divided by decade, the diocese’s statement shows that the number of priests with credible allegations included: 13 from the 1950s; nine in the 1960s; five in the 1970s; none in the 1980s; two in the 1990s; three between 2000 and 2010; and none since then. The diocese has not released names of the accused.

The Diocese of Charleston adopted a policy addressing sexual abuse allegations in 1994. It included a commitment to protecting the community; the observance of civil law; shared responsibility; full disclosure of allegations; and respect for the individuals involved. The policy has since been updated to include background screening, mandatory safe environment education of Church personnel and volunteers, and a victim assistance coordinator.

The diocese encourages all victims and those who have knowledge of any sexual misconduct to contact civil authorities in their area. To receive help and guidance from the Diocese of Charleston, call Louisa Storen, the victim assistance coordinator, at (800) 921-8122 or the Office of Child Protection Services at (843) 853-2130, ext. 209.


Updated April 27, 2014