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Redeemer Lutheran church in Duluth, Minnesota, will not have to sell its building to satisfy a civil lawsuit judgment awarded to a former member for sexual abuse committed by a former pastor.

In April 1994, a Duluth jury found Redeemer, its leaders, and former pastor Daniel Reeb liable for sexual abuse that David Samarzia suffered from the ages of 11 to 14 in the late 1960s. The Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld Samarzia's $644,000 award.

Samarzia, now 44, says he began drinking and attempted suicide before getting counseling that helped him understand how he had been victimized. He sued in 1991.

Reeb, 63, served as pastor of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod congregation from 1961 to 1979. Three other men abused by Reeb filed suit after Samarzia and settled out of court with the church's insurance company. By then the statutory period for criminal charges had expired. Reeb was expelled from the Missouri Synod clergy roster as unfit for ministry before the Samarzia trial.

A sheriff's auction of church contents took place, and Samarzia bought the contents. The Redeemer congregation, however, refused to deed over the church building and land to Samarzia. Samarzia then offered to take $200,000, with the congregation's apology that 30 years before leaders of the congregation "knew or should have known."

The church's insurance company paid $215,000 to Samarzia, who accepted a promise by the 40-member congregation to pay him a reduced judgment of $204,000. Of that total, an anonymous donor pledged $100,000 to help keep the church open.

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In the Magazine

July 13, 1998

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