KC diocese reaches settlement in teen abuse case

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has reached a $2.25 million settlement in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by a Missouri couple who contended their 14-year-old boy committed suicide because of repeated sexual abuse by a Kansas City priest.

The boy, Brian Teeman, of Independence, died of a gunshot wound in November 1983. His parents, Donald and Rosemary Teeman, filed the lawsuit in Jackson County court in September 2011 after a man who was an altar boy with their son told them of the alleged abuse, The Kansas City Star reported.

Jury selection for the trial was underway Monday in Jackson County court in Independence when the settlement agreement was announced.

The diocese said in a statement that it chose to settle the claim “in consideration of the financial and emotional toll on all parties of an anticipated four-week trial.”

“In these circumstances, the Diocese believes that the settlement is in the best interest of the Teeman family, Nativity of Mary parish community and the people of the Diocese as a whole,” the diocese statement said. The terms of the settlement agreement also require the diocese to place a bench at Nativity of Mary Parish in Independence in honor of Brian Teeman.

The lawsuit said the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph shared responsibility for the boy’s death because church officials knew Monsignor Thomas J. O’Brien was sexually abusing boys but covered it up. The parents were seeking unspecified damages from the diocese.

O’Brien, 86, is also named in the lawsuit and has repeatedly denied all abuse allegations. His attorney, Gerald McGonagle, did not respond to a request for comment.

Diocesan attorneys have argued there was no proof the diocese knew Teeman had been abused, nor was there proof that Brian had committed suicide or that he had committed suicide because of abuse.
The diocese also argued that too much time had passed.

Missouri has a three-year statute of limitations for wrongful death cases, but Jackson County Circuit Judge Michael Manners held as valid the Teemans’ argument that the statute should be suspended because of what they said was the defendants’ cover up, fraud and concealment of O’Brien’s alleged abuse of their son and other children. The diocese unsuccessfully appealed Manners’ ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court.

The Teemans’ lawyer, Rebecca Randles, said the settlement, which requires a hearing before it’s finalized, “allows everyone to put this behind them.”

“It allows closure,” she said.

Rosemary Teeman said the family was relieved to have the trial finished. But she said: “It’s bittersweet.”

Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, questioned the diocese’s motive for the settlement.

“We believe that church officials agreed to settle this case because proof of the cover-up of these horrific crimes would have been made public during the course of this trial,” Dorris said in a statement.

The diocese has had several recent high-profile abuse cases. In 2008, the diocese approved a $10 million settlement with 47 plaintiffs who filed sexual abuse lawsuits against 12 current or former priests.

The Rev. Shawn Ratigan is also incarcerated at a federal detention facility in Leavenworth, Kan., after pleading guilty last year to producing child pornography. The diocese also agreed to a $600,000 settlement in a civil lawsuit filed against Ratigan in federal court by the parents of a young Missouri girl.