The Diocese of Duluth and its insurers have agreed to a $40 million settlement with 125 plaintiffs who said they were sexually abused as children by clergy and others in the diocese.
As part of the agreement, the diocese has agreed to relinquish secret files on 37 priests who it had determined were credibly accused of abuse. It also must develop procedures to ensure that children will be protected from such abuse going forward.
The settlement is pending approval from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court; the Diocese filed for protection from its creditors in December 2015. Under the agreement, the diocese must pay $10 million and the balance will be paid by its insurers.
The Diocese of Duluth’s bankruptcy claim is similar to one filed by the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, which announced its intentions in November.
The Diocese of Winona-Rochester set a deadline of April 8 for those wishing to file a claim to do so. As of last November, a total of 121 claims had been filed against the diocese, naming 17 priests. Many of them were filed as a result of the state’s Child Victims Act, which lifted the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse for three years.
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Settlement negotiations are ongoing.
Jeff Anderson, who represents 120 of the claimants against the Diocese of Duluth, called the settlement “vindication and validation” for clergy sex abuse victims who he said held the Diocese and Catholic bishops accountable financially and by demanding disclosure of what was known by top Diocesan officials.
“We applaud the courage and patience of the survivors, who have handled this difficult process with grace and strength. They have accomplished so much for the protection of children and for themselves,” Anderson said. He said the settlement may bring some comfort to other survivors of clergy abuse, knowing that they were not alone.
Phil Kunkel, a bankruptcy attorney for the diocese, said he’s hoping the settlement will be approved by late summer to early fall, with payments going out to the abuse survivors by year’s end. The diocese would then emerge from bankruptcy and resume normal operations, he said.
“We have reached agreements with all of our insurers. At long last, we are glad we are now able to reach an agreement with the survivors,” Kunkel said.
If approved, it will be the second such settlement reached between a Catholic diocese in Minnesota and sex abuse victims. The agreement largely mirrors a $210 million settlement reached in 2018 between about 450 sex abuse victims and the Archdiocese of St. Paul. (The Crosier religious order also agreed to settle sex abuse claims for $25 million before it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2017.)
Anderson represents clients in negotiations with dioceses in St. Cloud, Winona and New Ulm. He said litigation against the Crookston diocese is going forward after settlement negotiations broke down.
Assuming the bankruptcy court approves of the pending settlement with the Diocese of Duluth, the plaintiffs will be sent ballots and vote on the plan. The court must then approve the agreement. After that, a claims reviewer will determine individual awards.
Anderson said the lawsuit against the Diocese began in earnest after a victim of priest sex abuse sued in Ramsey County District Court and won an $8 million judgment. The Diocese filed for bankruptcy protection a month later, the 15th diocese in the nation to do so.
The Duluth diocese has more than 56,000 members in 92 parishes across 10 counties in the northeast corner of Minnesota.