Group says abuse scandal could cost $2 billion or more


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The chairman of the Catholic lay reform group Voice of the Faithful forecast Saturday that the clergy sexual abuse scandal will cost U.S. dioceses $2 billion to $3 billion in direct costs.
Speaking at the first national meeting of the group in three years, David Castaldi urged leaders of local affiliates to press their bishops for more and better financial reporting as individual dioceses post increasingly higher financial payouts to abuse victims, lawyers and others.
The Associated Press reported last month that the costs so far totaled slightly more than $1 billion for abuse cases that date back decades. The projection by Castaldi, who is also a former chancellor and chief financial officer for the Boston Archdiocese, indicates that direct costs will be at twice as high.
Boston, where the scandal first erupted 3½ years ago before spreading nationwide, reached an $85 million settlement with 552 people in 2003. The Diocese of Orange, Calif., settled 90 abuse claims for $100 million last December, followed by last month's settlement of $120 million by the Diocese of Covington, Ky.
"That record will not last," Castaldi said.
The bankrupt Diocese of Portland, Ore., faces claims topping $500 million, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will settle cases for at least $500 million and perhaps as much as $1.5 billion, Castaldi said.
"We can now see total direct costs of $2 billion to $3 billion," he said.
Castaldi spoke as part of a panel addressing the accountability of financial reporting, of bishops and of lay persons in the U.S. Catholic Church, which counts approximately 67 million members, or nearly a quarter of the population.
Illinois Appellate Judge Anne Burke, the former chair of the church's National Review Board, spoke as part of the same panel, discussing the accountability of the bishops. She told the more than 500 Voice of the Faithful leaders from more than 30 states that they must keep pressure up or bishops will try to roll back some of the reforms they've instituted since 2002.
"You have been the catalysts of unexpected good. You have made it happen in unexpected places," said Burke, who will receive an award from the group on Sunday at the conclusion of the meeting at the Indiana Convention Center. She said she is not a member of the group.
Burke was highly critical of bishops. She said some leaders in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, during its meeting in Chicago last month, wanted to soften the standards of accountability they have faced since 2002.
"Some of them found it was time to roll back the clock," she charged. In the end, media leaks of the proposed changed created pressure that forced the bishops to keep the accountability standards intact, she said.
During a news conference, Voice President Jim Post said the Indianapolis meeting marked a crossroads as the Newton, Mass.-based lay group evolves from a group that rose up to protest the scandal in the Boston Archdiocese into an enduring agent for the reform of church structures to give non-clergy a greater voice. It claims more than 30,000 members.
"We know we're going to be around for the long term," Post said.
Workshops Friday trained the affiliate leaders in skills such as recruiting, strategy and the legislative process. On Saturday, working groups started working on proposals to bring greater accountability to the church. Those working groups will present resolutions on Sunday.
Castaldi said dozens of members across the country have won seats on parish pastoral and finance councils.
"Our church will change from the bottom up," castaldi said.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)