Area diocese to pay its biggest settlement in an alleged priest sex abuse case

The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph this week agreed to pay an Independence man $225,000, its biggest settlement ever in a case of alleged priest sexual abuse.

The retired priest in the case, the Rev. Francis E. McGlynn, also will pay $2,000 to the victim, Frank Scheuring, 47, of Independence.

Two other lawsuits are pending against McGlynn for alleged abuse of two girls in the same time period of the early 1970s and at the same place, St. Mary’s Church in Independence. McGlynn, now 80 and living in Kansas City, denies all the allegations.

The settlement, announced Wednesday, came as Scheuring’s case was to start trial next week. A Jackson County judge recently denied a final defense request to dismiss the lawsuit, and the trial would have been the first of its kind in Jackson County.

The diocese issued a brief statement that said in part, ” … the diocese agreed to end the dispute with the hope that true healing can begin.” It said the money will come from self-insurance reserves and will not affect operations.

Scheuring did not attend the news conference announcing the settlement and could not be reached for comment.

More than 25 pending Jackson County priest sex cases involve more than 40 plaintiffs and at least eight former or current priests.

Lawyers said more settlements or trials lie ahead, given a Missouri Supreme Court ruling last year that set standards for filing such lawsuits.

Patrick Noaker of Minnesota, one of Scheuring’s lawyers, praised the diocese for the settlement, which also includes an agreement to pay court costs.

“It ushers in a new and different way of dealing with victims in the diocese,” he said.

The diocese has settled only one other such case in recent years, Scheuring’s lawyers said. A diocesan official cited a 1989 settlement for $150,000 but knew of none higher. The St. Louis Archdiocese settled an alleged priest sex abuse case in July for $300,000.

Noaker said the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese is finally moving away from court fights and delay.

“Mediation and prevention is the right direction,” Noaker said. “Victims of sexual abuse should not be in the all-out combat situation like we have in court.”

He said that his client and his client’s family have met with the diocese and want to meet more to craft ways to make children safer.

David Clohessy of St. Louis, director of the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, said he hopes the settlement marks a diocesan change but has doubts. This diocese has been far more reluctant to settle cases than others, he said.

“I don’t want other victims to prematurely get their hopes up only to have to endure more years of legal hardball,” he said.

Diocesan officials declined to comment beyond the news release. In April, they paid $60,000 to a Northland man in his 50s who contended two priests molested him when he was 14. That was a repressed memory case.

Kansas City attorney Rebecca Randles, who represents Scheuring and dozens of others in Jackson County priest lawsuits, told his story at a news conference at her law office.

From that and lawsuit records:

Scheuring went to McGlynn in 1971 at age 11 and confessed to him that a neighbor was sexually abusing him.

Soon the priest allegedly started abusing him, too, and did so for three years – about 60 times in all.

The priest told the boy that the priest was next to God and everything he did was God speaking to the boy.

Scheuring never told anyone and grew up believing he was special because of that gift from God. In 2002, as the Boston priest sex abuse stories hit the news, Scheuring at first thought, “Why don’t these people understand they were touched by God?” Randles said.

But he soon realized he had been sexually abused, and that breakthrough caused mental problems, she said. That same year, he got into a bathtub surrounded by religious icons, put a big crucifix on his chest and cut his arms 18 times, Randles said.

The lesson from him and other victims abused by clergy or others in power is that such abuse “is a soul killer” that damages children for life, she said.

The settlement plays out as Missouri is still shaping how to handle such cases. Under state law, such lawsuits must be filed within five years of when wrongdoing “is sustained and capable of ascertainment.” For minors the clock starts ticking when they turn 21.

A Missouri Supreme Court ruling last year clarified that cases of alleged clergy abuse going back decades could go to trial under certain conditions.

Appeals courts will later refine lower court rulings on issues related to when a person realizes damage, Randles said. “The law is in flux.”

Jackson County Circuit Judge John O’Malley last week ruled against a defense request to dismiss the Scheuring case.

Diocesan lawyer Jonathan Haden argued then, “A reasonable person would have understood at the time the events happened it was something else than being touched by God.”

Randles argued that children can deal with such abuse by feeling dirty and evil inside and repressing it or by believing they have a special relationship with God.

Her client had to break through that, she said, and tried to kill himself “the first time he realized this was actually abuse and not the love of God.”

O’Malley told the lawyers it was a close call, but he would let jurors decide the matter.

“My instinct is to let the case go forward,” he said.

He also ordered the parties into negotiations that produced the settlement.

By JOE LAMBE The Kansas City Star