The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has hit a major roadblock in its pledge to pay damages to victims of clergy sex abuse: Its insurance companies are refusing to cover the costs.
The archdiocese sued eight insurance companies in federal court Monday, seeking to require them to meet the terms of the “substantial” amount of insurance it bought “to cover the type of injuries” suffered by the clergy abuse claimants.
The lawsuit Monday by the Roman Catholic archdiocese involves at least 20 victims’ suits against the archdiocese and other “notices of claim” that have been filed since Minnesota enacted the Child Victims Act last year, which allowed older child abuse cases to be heard in civil court. The act also gave victims three years to sue.
In letters to the archdiocese, insurers explain that the policies do not apply because the abuse incidents are not “accidents” and “occurrences” but acts that caused harm that were expected or intended. An archdiocese attorney added that monetary limits on how much a policy covers also were in dispute.
“So far, we have not been able to reach a global resolution with all the insurance companies,” Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a statement issued Tuesday. Nienstedt said he hopes the legal action “will encourage the insurance companies … to help us achieve an equitable settlement for victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse.”
St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who has been leading the court action on behalf of clergy abuse victims, said many of the insurers involved have in the past “refused to pay and have had to be sued.”
“The insurance companies are not stepping up,” said Anderson, who forged a sweeping landmark deal with the archdiocese in October that addresses how the church body handles abuse cases and the victims.
The settling of the cases brought by victims against the archdiocese “requires the participation of the insurers. The filing of the action [by church officials] is a clear demonstration that they are not getting the participation or the cooperation of the insurance companies that the archdiocese and the victims deserve.”
Last week, the archdiocese said it is weighing whether to declare bankruptcy as it faces an unprecedented wave of clergy abuse lawsuits.
“Those insurance companies can save the archdiocese from financial disaster,” Anderson said.
The insurers being sued are Continental, Firemen’s Fund, National Fire of Hartford, TIG, Continental Casualty, Hartford Accident and Indemnity, American Home Assurance, and Aetna Casualty and Surety. They have yet to file responses with the court.
Archdiocese attorney Lauren Lonergan said Tuesday that no one insurer is substantially on the hook for more in payouts than another.
“Our analysis is that it’s spread across many different companies,” she said. As for a total amount of money that could be at stake, she said, “I don’t think we know how much.”
The money involved is expected to be in the millions, given the suits already filed, the formal notices of suits yet to come and the fact that “the archdiocese continues to receive new claims on a regular basis,” the church body said in its action against the insurers.