By Paul Duggan, The Washington Post
In a secret out of court settlement, the Archdiocese of Washington has paid a six figure sum to a Virginia man who accused church officials of negligence after he was molested as a youth by a Catholic priest In Prince George’s County, lawyers and others close to the lawsuit said yesterday.
The plaintiff now 20, was one of three teen-agers sexually abused In the early by the Rev. Peter M. McCutcheon. The plaintiff, who sought $2 million dollars in damages in Montgomery County Circuit Court, alleged that church officials “knew or should have known” of McCutcheon’s pedophilia before McCutcheon was arrested and pleaded guilty to criminal charges in 1986.
In reaching the settlement Oct. 14, the archdiocese agreed to pay the plaintiff a six figure sum, according to a source familiar with the case, who said the money has since been paid.
In return, the plaintiff’s attorneys agreed to go along with the request for a court order sealing the case file. The order, signed by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Stanley B. Frosh, prohibits public disclosure of the plaintiff’s evidence or the settlement amount.
The lawsuit which was scheduled for trial before Frosh next month, raised sensitive questions about the church’s treatment of priests who are found to be pedophiles. The plaintiff’s attorneys said they had planned to argue that church officials ignored McCutcheon’s problems and were negligent in allowing him to remain a parish priest before his arrest.
Instead, the case becomes one of at least 200 lawsuits in Washington area jurisdictions which judges have ordered entire case files sealed as part of out of court settlements. The routine practice often has the effect of preventing debate on issues of public safety. Judge Frosh said he sealed the case file at the archdiocese’s request as a matter of course. “I don’t know what their motives are and I don’t question them,” he said. “I’ve never thought about it.”
Anthony P. Interdonato, an attorney for the archdiocese, would not discuss any payment by his client, but said the settlement included “absolutely no admission of liability whatsoever” by church officials. Eileen Marx, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said church officials would have no comment.
One of the plaintiff’s attorneys, James C. “Beau” Brincefield, said he recommended the settlement to his client for “strategic” reasons. “I never had any doubt we’d win the case,” Brincefield said, “but I was concerned about the length of time it would take [to collect an award] and the uncertainty involved in multiple levels of appeal.”
He said he has asked his client not to comment on the settlement.
McCutcheon, who was ordained in 1979, committed the sexual assaults in the early 1980s while a priest at St. Peter’s Church in Waldorf, Md., and later at St. John the Baptist de la Salle Church in Chillum.
He was sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to molestation charges in Prince George’s County Circuit Court in 1986.
The sentence was later reduced to probation an a condition that he move into a church run treatment center in New Mexico, where he is now.
McCutcheon, who was a codefendant in the lawsuit with the archdiocese, was held liable for damages in the case last month after Judge Frosh ruled that he had “unlawfully impeded” the plaintiff’s attempts to gather evidence.
The plaintiff’s attorneys had sought to take depositions from psychologists and clerics with whom McCutcheon consulted at the time he was committing the assaults. The attorneys said they had hoped to show that higher church officials were made aware of McCutcheon’s problems. The psychologists and clerics refused to give depositions, saying McCutcheon would not free them from their professional obligations to remain silent about the counseling sessions. Judge Frosh ordered McCutcheon to give his permission for them to testify, but McCutcheon refused.
Reprinted from The Washington Post, Wednesday, October 26, 1988.