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Judge orders local diocese into arbitration of 2008 settlement

By MARK MORRIS
The Kansas City Star

A judge has ordered the local Catholic diocese into arbitration to determine whether it violated a 2008 settlement with those who alleged they had been abused by priests.

Lawyers representing 42 of the 47 plaintiffs who settled their claims for $10 million demanded arbitration last year, alleging that the diocese had failed to live up to its commitments in its handling of two priests who had been accused of sexual misconduct.

One of those priests, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, is scheduled for trial in August on federal child pornography charges. The other priest, the Rev. Michael Tierney, faces civil lawsuits alleging that he abused the plaintiffs decades ago.

Ratigan has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and Tierney has denied any wrongdoing.

In their demand, the plaintiffs asked the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for proof that it had met state child abuse reporting requirements and followed the sexual misconduct policies required by the settlement.

Lawyers representing the diocese responded that the church had abided by the terms of the settlement.

At a hearing last month, David R. Frye, a lawyer representing the diocese, said the settlement’s arbitration provision was meant to cover only disputes over money.

“An arbitrator overseeing the diocese on these issues in perpetuity?” Frye asked. “Not even the arbitrator would agree to that.”

Plaintiff’s lawyer Rebecca Randles said she always believed that the agreement covered the diocese’s non-monetary commitments.

“The diocese really wanted these things to go to an arbitrator if there was a disagreement,” Randles said.

In her order, Jackson County Circuit Judge Peggy Stevens McGraw said language in the settlement documents was clear.

“The contract in this case contained a broad arbitration provision, which provided that any dispute regarding the contract or any related matters would be subject to arbitration,” McGraw wrote in her June 6 order. “The language in the contract is unambiguous.”

To contact Mark Morris, call 816-234-4310 or send email to mmorris@kcstar.com.

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