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Archdiocese sues insurance carriers who won't cover clergy abuse settlements

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Plans by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to settle more than 20 clergy sexual abuse lawsuits are running into trouble because its insurance companies are refusing to pay the claims, the Associated Press reports.

The archdiocese filed suit in federal court Monday against eight insurance companies in an effort to force them to cover the costs of settling the cases, some of which go back decades.

According to the lawsuit, the insurance companies provided liability coverage for the archdiocese from the late 1940s through 1986. The insurers claim the policies don't cover clergy abuse because the incidents are not “accidents” and “occurrences.” Instead, they argue the abuse caused harm that was expected or intended, according to the Star Tribune.

“So far, we have not been able to reach a global resolution with all the insurance companies,” Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a statement, according to the Star Tribune, adding that he hopes the lawsuit will encourage the insurance companies to cooperate in reaching an equitable settlement with the victims.

The insurers being sued are Continental, Firemen’s Fund, National Fire of Hartford, TIG, Continental Casualty, Hartford Accident and Indemnity, American Home Assurance, and Aetna Casualty and Surety, the Star Tribune reports.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the carriers to cover the claims and the archdiocese's legal fees.

Budget concerns

The archdiocese is already concerned about whether it can cover the costs of the settlements, and said last week it is weighing whether to declare bankruptcy as it anticipates more clergy abuse lawsuits.

Earlier this month the archdiocese announced it would cut its budget by about 20 percent, or $5 million, because of declining revenues. The plan involves an undetermined number of layoffs of its 150-member staff. A final plan for the cuts will be presented to Archbishop John Nienstedt within the next few weeks.

Parishes taking steps, too

Individual Catholic parishes are pondering how they might need to prepare for any legal action that might be filed against them, reports the Star Tribune.

At least two parishes have hired their own attorney to represent them in case of any lawsuits, and they are inviting the other 200 or so parishes in the archdiocese to join them.

Rev. Kevin Finnegan of Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina and the Rev. David Hennen of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church of Hastings hired an attorney, in part because priests who previously served in both churches have been identified as child sex abusers, according to the Star Tribune.

“Since the interests of the individual parishes are distinct from those of the Archdiocese, we believe that it is prudent for the parishes to have their own representation,” they said in a letter to all the parishes in the archdiocese last week.

And just this past week a pastor at a Catholic church in Maple Grove blamed the archdiocese's handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal for a drop in donations to his parish.

Rev. Mike Sullivan of St. Joseph the Worker in Maple Grove recently sent a letter to his parishioners telling them the archdiocese has failed to protect children and vulnerable adults, WCCO reports.

Sullivan said the weekly donations at his church are down substantially over the past several months, in great measure due to parishioners' anger over the clergy sex abuse scandal.

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