Catholic Church and priest to pay abused altar boys $120m

A Roman Catholic priest and the diocese he served were ordered to pay $120m (pounds 72m) in damages to 10 former altar boys and the family of an 11th who had been the victims of sexual abuse over an extended period.

The priest, Rudolpho Kos, in the diocese of Dallas, Texas, had been found guilty of molesting the boys in the 11 years to 1992.

The award - $102m in actual damages and $18m in punitive damages - was the largest ever made against the Catholic Church in a sexual abuse case and came after the jury had heard additional evidence attesting to the seriousness of the case. The accusations had been brought in the civil court, but Kos now faces criminal charges for the sexual abuse of a child.

Explaining the size of the damages and why they were making the award against Kos and the diocese jointly, the jury said the diocese was guilty of gross negligence, malice, conspiracy and fraud in, first, failing to stop Kos from abusing the boys and, second, in covering up evidence when the first victims came forward.

The 10 boys, who are now aged between 18 and their early 30s, and another who committed suicide in 1992, were awarded damages ranging from $7.4m to $20.2m for the dead boy's family. The previous highest award against the Catholic Church in a sexual abuse case was $13m in Florida last year.

Kos, now 52, was suspended from the priesthood in 1992 and now lives in San Diego. The 11-week case attracted considerable attention, especially at the outset, when the former altar boys testified about "sleepovers" at the priest's room and described how a "fatherlike relationship" degenerated through instances of foot massage to masturbation and oral sex. The boys said he gave them sweets and video games and plied them with sedatives, alcohol and marijuana. All were nine years old when the abuse began.

The lawyer for the boys had accused diocese officials of ignoring "mountains of evidence" against the priest and of destroying documents when the cases started to come to light.

"This diocese is more concerned about concealing the truth than protecting children," attorney Silvia Demarest said in closing arguments.

But the diocese said Kos had deceived everyone for years and pointed out that he was removed as a priest as soon as a first boy complained about sexual abuse.

"Rudy Kos is clearly a sociopath. He was a smart, manipulative man," attorney Randal Mathis said.

"I hope they wake up the Pope tonight with this," plaintiffs' attorney Ms Demarest, said after the verdict.

For the church, Bishop Charles Grahmann said the diocese was likely appeal "in order that a higher court can review all the issues and make certain that a final verdict is just and appropriate".

The case is the latest in a series of child-sex cases involving Catholic priests in the US to have become public. The number of cases over the past year reflects a toughening of resolve in the church to deal with the problem of sexual abuse by priests and a public climate in which victims are increasingly willing to come forward.

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