HONOLULU (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Catholic Church of Hawaii is suing an insurance company over allegations the diocese is being denied promised coverage of sex abuse settlements.
The lawsuit, filed January 14 with the Honolulu 1st Circuit Court, claims the First Insurance Company of Hawaii is rejecting requests from the diocese of Honolulu to honor a contract made decades ago in its liability policies with the Hawaiian Catholic Church.
The Church is seeking to compensate approximately 60 individuals who were sexually abused by a "number of priests or brothers." The liability policies purchased from the First Insurance Company, ranging from $100,000 "per occurrence" to $1 million, were intended to cover payouts related to bodily harm or property damage inflicted by the Church.
A statement on the matter from Bp. Larry Silva was released by a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Hawaii:
The Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii is committed to providing victims of sexual abuse with compassionate resolution, but with limited resources, it cannot do so on its own. We remain hopeful that First Insurance Company of Hawaii will assist us in our efforts by honoring the insurance coverage the Church purchased in years past.
According to the bishops, the policies had been purchased from the First Insurance Company on a regular basis, beginning in 1951 and ending in 1987. First Insurance alleges, however, that it's unable to locate any policies purchased prior to 1982, which, according to the company, relieves them of those commitments.
The lawsuit, being handled by attorneys from both Honolulu and Wisconsin-based law firms, states First Insurance has "delayed, obfuscated and misled its policyholders, consistently putting its interests ahead of the interests" of its customers. It goes on to accuse the company of behaving "as no insurer should ever behave."
While many details of the suit have not been disclosed, the Church has confirmed it is pursuing a jury trial and monetary damages. On account of First Insurance's withholding of coverage, the lawsuit also contends the Church is debating liquidating assets in order to cover the abuse settlements, warning that this could put its ministries within the state of Hawaii "in serious jeopardy."
The sex abuse settlements are believed to amount to millions of dollars, but according to Church public relations counsel Laurie LaGrange, any "settlements reached to date remain sealed."
The senior vice president of First Insurance reported that as of Tuesday the company had not been served with a complaint.