Thursday, July 29, 2004

Catholic diocese agrees
to settle in sex abuse lawsuit

The settlement details are kept
secret, at the request of the family

The Hawaii Catholic diocese has agreed to an undisclosed settlement of a lawsuit filed by the mother of a boy who was sexually abused 10 years ago by a Honolulu parish employee.

Besides the diocese, the lawsuit named Manuel Feliciano, a former sacristan at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, who pleaded guilty to six sexual assault charges involving the 10-year-old child. He was sentenced in November 2000 to one year in prison and five years' probation in the case.

Details of the settlement are confidential at the choice of the plaintiffs, who now live on the mainland.

It is the second time this year that the diocese has agreed to confidential terms in settling a sex abuse suit, despite a commitment to openness by American bishops in response to the national scandal of abusive priests and cover-up by bishops.

"The family opted to keep the financial issues confidential for their own personal reasons," said their attorney, Mark Davis. "All claims were resolved to the satisfaction of the family."

The diocese's attorney, William Bordner, said the lawsuit will be dismissed with prejudice, meaning the plaintiffs cannot file suit again.

Circuit Judge Gary Chang permitted the plaintiffs to be anonymous, identified only by initials, when the suit was filed in October 2000.

The mother accused Feliciano of sexual abuse of both of her sons beginning in 1994 when they were 7 and 10 years old. She said they met Feliciano when they attended the Kaheka Street church where he was in charge of teaching altar boys. Her allegations involved times when the boys were at Feliciano's apartment. Police charged him with incidents involving the older boy.

The settlement also covers a countersuit filed in March 2002 by the diocese, which said Feliciano's activity at his home was outside the scope of his employment in the church. It claimed that the mother "was reckless, negligent and/or otherwise breached duties of care" she owed her children.

She and the boys filed depositions in the case, as did Feliciano. In his June 14, 2002, statement, he said he touched the genitals and had oral intercourse with the older boy twice. He said he pleaded guilty to six criminal charges at the advice of his attorney and to avoid a longer prison term. He admitted to "grooming" the younger child, wiping him off with a towel after he showered.

Davis said Feliciano was not a party to the settlement because he "had no money," and will be dropped as a defendant when the parties go before the judge to finalize the agreement reached in February.

Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, Hawaii's former bishop who was recently reassigned to Richmond, Va., was also named as a defendant. He joined the other American bishops in establishing the 2002 "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," which states, "The dioceses/eparchies 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."

Hawaii Catholic diocese

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