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Synod pays $250,000 to sex-abuse victim

The Florida-Bahamas Synod agreed to pay $250,000 to Kerry Fitzgerald of Fort Lauderdale, who sued the synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Conny Sjostrom, a pastor she accused of initiating improper sexual contact during counseling sessions.

Sjostrom, who has since resigned from the ELCA clergy roster, settled with her outside court. At a civil trial, a Broward County jury exonerated the ELCA but held the synod negligent in its supervision of Sjostrom. The synod then settled the case for $250,000.

Sjostrom's misconduct occurred in his capacity as spiritual director for a drug and alcohol counseling center not affiliated with the ELCA or synod. During the same period, 1992-93, Sjostrom also served as a pastor of St. Francis Chapel, an ELCA congregation that has since disbanded.

During the trial, Fitzgerald's attorneys suggested the synod knew about Sjostrom's conduct. The synod denied the allegations. Fitzgerald reported the misconduct in 1994, and Sjostrom resigned immediately when confronted by then-bishop Lavern Franzen. Current Bishop William B. Trexler said the synod and ELCA are committed to keeping the church a safe place for all people.


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