The Diocese of St. Cloud will pay $22.5 million to sexual abuse survivors and declare bankruptcy under the terms of a settlement agreement announced Tuesday.
The agreement, subject to a bankruptcy court filing expected in the next few weeks, addresses allegations made against 41 priests by some 70 survivors dating back to the 1950s.
Many of the clerics are now dead, though one was still in active ministry as recently as 2015 at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Elk River.
Attorney Jeff Anderson, who negotiated the settlement agreement on behalf of abuse survivors, said it amounts to “validation and affirmation” for those survivors, some of whom Anderson first represented in lawsuits filed in the 1980s.
“Every single survivor with whom we worked has felt some measure of recovery of power by having come forward to share secrets,” said Anderson. “We believe they have made the community safer because of it, and they have been a part of a massive cleanup of a massive coverup in the Diocese of St. Cloud. It has been a journey born of great tribulation.”
In a statement, St. Cloud Bishop Donald Kettler said the diocese is committed to preventing sexual abuse.
“I am particularly grateful to the survivors of abuse for their courage in coming forward and sharing their experiences, and I again apologize on behalf of the Church for the harm they suffered,” he said. “I remain committed to assist in the healing of all those who have been hurt, and I hope this is another step in that direction.”
In 2014, the St. Cloud Diocese released the names of 33 priests who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse. New lawsuits and information boosted that number to 41. The diocese announced in 2018 that it would file for bankruptcy, beginning the negotiations that led to Tuesday’s announcement.
The agreement also calls for the diocese to turn over its files on the 41 credibly accused priests.
One of those accused, Antonio Marfori, was in active ministry at St. Andrew’s in Elk River when a survivor stepped forward in 2015 to make accusations about past abuse that took place at St. Cloud Cathedral High School in the 1970s.
Kettler defrocked Marfori and added his name to the list of clergy likely to have abused minors, according to a diocesan spokesman. Marfori now resides in the Philippines but makes occasional visits to Minnesota, the spokesman said.
If the bankruptcy plan is approved, the St. Cloud Diocese will become the fifth of Minnesota’s six dioceses to settle its clergy abuse claims, and the fifth to declare bankruptcy.
The Diocese of New Ulm in March reached a $34 million settlement with 100 survivors in its bankruptcy case. The Diocese of Duluth and its insurers agreed last year to a $40 million settlement with 125 survivors of clergy sexual abuse, and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis reached a $210 million settlement in 2018 with 450 survivors.
The Diocese of Winona-Rochester filed for bankruptcy in 2018. The Diocese of Crookston avoided filing for bankruptcy when it reached a $5 million settlement last July to resolve 15 lawsuits for sexual abuse claims.
Those agreements would settle most of the 800 credible claims of child sex abuse by priests made under the 2013 Minnesota Child Victims Act, which opened a three-year window for plaintiffs to file abuse claims going back decades that were previously barred by statutes of limitation.