In what may be the largest per capita clergy abuse settlement ever, nine victims will receive $36.8 million from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's Northern Texas/Northern Louisiana Synod and two former officials. The civil case follows the conviction of Gerald P. Thomas, former pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Marshall, Texas, for sex crimes against children. An additional $32 million out-of-court settlement was reached before the trial ended. Total awards amounted to nearly $69 million awarded to 14 victims.
Individual awards ranged from $50,000 to $9.8 million depending on medical needs and the amount of abuse suffered. The settlements involve Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Ohio, a Michigan candidacy committee that ordained Thomas, Good Shepherd Church, the Northern Texas/Northern Louisiana Synod, and Bishop Mark Herbener of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod and his assistant Earl Eliason. According to the ELCA, the 5 million-member denomination will pay $8 million of the total settlement.
Thomas was first accused of misconduct in a West Texas church, where he served as an intern. The Marshall News Messenger writes, "Among the information the synod did not disclose was that Thomas had given tequila shots to two teenage boys and that the boys had found a homosexual pornographic video in the parsonage when Thomas served as a ministry intern."
The Associated Press writes,
Other terms of settlements reached by plaintiffs' attorney Edward Hohn include apologies to victims and parishioners nationwide; development of a strategy for preventing and handling sexual misconduct, including a review of all current ministers; and creation of a denomination-wide national reporting system for sexual abuse.
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more