The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has paid $80 million to 160 victims of sexual abuse by clergy represented by a single law firm since 2001, the lawyer who heads the Minnesota-based firm told reporters Tuesday.
According to a statement issued later by the archdiocese, it has paid around $200 million in all to settle litigation accusing clergy of sexual misconduct over recent decades.
Jeff Anderson, one of the most prominent attorneys representing accusers nationwide, told a Chicago news conference it was the first time he’s publicly revealed the sum of payments to clients abused by nearly 50 clergy.
The $80 million includes recent settlements for seven accusers represented by Anderson’s firm. It doesn’t include payments to survivors represented by other law firms, and doesn’t include more than 35 still-ongoing cases handled by Anderson and his fellow lawyers.
If the $80 million figure is correct, that means clients of Anderson and his colleagues may have received around 40 percent of the total $200 million in payouts by the archdiocese.
The brief Tuesday statement from the archdiocese said it doesn’t disclose settlement payouts to specific law firms or individuals. It did acknowledge the payments have strained the budget of the archdiocese, which serves more than 2 million Catholics in and around Chicago.
“The Archdiocese of Chicago has made significant progress in recent years in stabilizing our finances,” the statement said. It added that the archdiocese still faces challenges “due to misconduct settlements, the declining size of our congregation and other factors.”
A July Chicago Tribune report cited archdiocese officials as estimating they may have to pay $156 million more to settle legal action by survivors in years to come.
Anderson said the payments to his clients over nearly 20 years averaged $500,000 per victim, with some payouts to individuals running into the millions of dollars and others only into the tens of thousands of dollars.
The archdiocese fought litigation throughout the ’80s and ’90s but slowly developed a settlement process, Anderson said. He called the relationship with the archdiocese “arduous and inconsistent” but said that there’s been a positive “sea change” in approach in recent decades.
“We have so much more to do,” he said. “But make no mistake about it: this is progress.”
Anderson was asked by a reporter if some might raise eyebrows about how his law firm has profited from the litigation. He answered: “You’re damn right we made a lot of money.”
But Anderson, who began representing clergy-abuse victims in the 1980s, said his firm has donated large sums of money to the decadeslong movement to force the Catholic Church to “come clean” about the abuse. And he said money secured by the firm helped survivors take control of their lives.
Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mtarm