The Diocese of Charlotte settled with the parents of a child sex abuse victim for more than $1.5 million, resolving a lawsuit which alleged that the Catholic Church’s pattern of hiring and protecting sexual predators allowed their daughter to be repeatedly molested by a former parish music minister.
The settlement ends an on-going case, starting in 2009 in Asheville, North Carolina, when police caught Paul Lawrence Berrell, a former music minister at St. Eugene Catholic Church, with a 13-year-old child, taking indecent liberties with her.
As a result of the charge, Berrell was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison in 2011, after a guilty plea of production of child pornography. The civil lawsuit named Berrell, as well as the Diocese of Charlotte and Reverend John Schneider.
This settlement awards the child with $1.2 million, in addition to her parents receiving $340,000, according to the diocese’s official newspaper. This money will be divided between a direct payment, as well as purchasing an annuity that will benefit the victim.
The family’s attorney confirmed that the lawsuit had been dismissed (as a result of the settlement), but refused to discuss any details, honoring the family’s requests.
The lawsuit alleges that Berrell had a history of assaulting children in Georgia, Massachusetts, and Tennessee parishes. It also alleges that church officials knew of Berrell’s history before he was assigned to the St. Eugene back in March of 2007.
The diocese responded to these allegations in its answer by denying any knowledge of employing or protecting a sexual abuser, as well as denying any knowledge of Berrell’s history of improper sexual activity.
Authorities revealed that Berrell possessed forms of child pornography by convincing the teens to engage in sexually explicit conduct.
In 2011, Reverend Schneider pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, as well as receiving a 45-day suspended sentence, after police charged him with removing hundreds of child pornography images from Berrell’s computer at home, in an attempt to foil the investigation.
The diocese’s newspaper reported that Schneider resigned as pastor shortly after these charges, and that, although he still lives in the Diocese in Charlotte, he is no longer in ministry.
Over the past decade, these sex scandals amongst clergymen and young children has been prevalent, and efforts to diminish these occurrences has still not resolved this issue. Back in March, the USA TODAY reported that the Catholic Church in the United States has spent over $2.5 billion in an effort to confront the clergy sex abuse crisis.
Since 1950, over 6,905 priests have been accused of sex abuse, and since 2012, over 16,463 victims have been identified, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection, as well as independent studies commissioned by the bishops.
The Diocese of Charlotte oversees parishes in Western North Carolina.
What do you think about this article? Are you surprised that these scandals are still ongoing? Do you think the settlement amount was fair? Unfair for either side? We would love to hear your feedback and comments. Feel free to comment on this blog post.
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