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Settlements Reached in Catholic Church Sex Abuse Lawsuits Over New Jersey Priest’s Conduct

The Catholic Church has agreed to settle at least five sexual abuse lawsuits brought against a former New Jersey priest, who has been accused to molesting a number of teenage boys and girls. 

During a press conference held earlier this week, attorney Mitchell Garabedian announced that the Catholic Church sex abuse settlements were reached through mediation in July 2018, resulting in payment of $400,000 to resolve the claims, while the same attorney continues to pursue a sixth case involving similar allegations.

Each of the plaintiffs allege that they were sexually molested by Reverend Michael “Mitch” Walters in the 1980s and 1990s, during his tenure at St. Cassian Church in Montclair, New Jersey, as well as at St. John Nepomucene Parish in Guttenberg, New Jersey. Walters was removed from the church in 2016, and has denied the allegations.

The five plaintiffs who settled their abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church include four men and one woman, who was the first female alter server in the Archdiocese of Newark, and reports that she was molested by Walters when she was only 13 and 14 years old.

Garabedian held the press conference to highlight what he described as victim-blaming by the church, indicating that the Catholic Church’s attorneys cited the “doctrine of contributory negligence” in defense of the claims. This legal defense attempts to place blame on the plaintiff for the damages claimed, and Garabedian indicates it was the Church’s way of suggesting that the underage victims were somehow partially at fault for the incidents.

The church issued a statement denying this interpretation, maintaining that it was a standard legal response and that Garabedian is mischaracterizing the defense.

At least one other sex abuse lawsuit against the Walters, the Archdiocese of Newark, St. Cassian Parish and St. Cassian School is still being pursued by Garabedian according to the attorney’s statements.

News of the settlements come as a growing number of similar sex abuse lawsuits are being pursued against the Catholic Church, as more adults step forward nationwide to pursue claims for misconduct by priests and other church employees when they were minors.

Sex molestation claims against the Catholic Church have come under renewed attention after a grand jury report was released in August, which accused at least 90 priests who served in the Pittsburgh area of misconduct for decades. The report indicated that the Catholic Church of Pennsylvania covered up abuse by 300 priests, who abused more than 1,000 victims, mostly children, over the course of 70 years. The report named 90 of those priests, sparking investigations by the Justice Department and states’ attorneys general nationwide.

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