|Catholic Church Pay 660 Million to Victims
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| Payout Is Bittersweet for Victims of Abuse
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July 17, 2007
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
As abuse victims sobbed in the courtroom, a judge approved a $660 million settlement yesterday between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and 508 people who had filed suit over sexual abuse by clergy members.
Settling the cases was the right thing to do, said Judge Haley J. Fromholz of Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The settlement in the nations largest Roman Catholic diocese is considered a landmark because the legal battle endured for more than four years, and because the sum is more than six times larger than any previous deal struck by a diocese.
At a news conference outside the courthouse yesterday, sexual abuse victims stepped to the microphone one by one, many carrying photographs of themselves as children, and shared their feelings of betrayal by the church and in particular, the archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, a fixture in Los Angeles since 1985.
I dont want Mahony going around saying everything is all right, because its not, said Rita Milla, 45, a medical assistant who lives in Carson. My church acted like it didnt know what was happening.
Carlos Perez-Carillo, 41, a supervisor in the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services, said, We walked around spiritless.
Mr. Perez-Carillo added, We were told we lied, and said, We walked in darkness for many, many years.
Some plaintiffs say they were raped, some molested, others shown pornography. Each plaintiff will receive a sum to be set based on the duration and nature of the violations, minus their legal fees, of 30 percent to 40 percent.
Its important to know, Mr. Perez-Carillo said, that survivors here will be able to go out and get the therapy they need.
The negotiations ended late Saturday, two days before the first of 20 cases against the archdiocese, involving 172 accusers, was cheduled to go to trial, said Raymond P. Boucher, the lead plaintiffs lawyer.
If not for the lawsuits and the civil proceedings, he said, the names of about 150 of those accused of abuse would never have become public.
In the courtroom, Mr. Boucher, his voice choking, asked for a moment of silence for victims who had died during the years of negotiations. He said in an interview later that he knew of nine who had committed suicide in the last five years, and several others who had died of drug overdoses.
In comments that are proving controversial, Mr. Boucher has praised Cardinal Mahony for bringing the settlement to fruition after meeting personally with 60 abuse victims.
He gave them a chance to yell and scream and vent and question, Mr. Boucher explained in an interview. There were intensely emotional, personal meetings, and I believe it changed the perspective of some of the clients that met with him, and Im certain that it hanged him.
In the last six months, he said, the cardinal himself pressed for a conclusion. When I stopped by the defense counsels office, Mr. Boucher said, the cardinal would be down the hallway on the phone with the religious orders trying to get them to participate in the settlement.
But in interviews, other plaintiffs lawyers blamed Cardinal Mahony for dragging out negotiations by trying to foist responsibility on the insurance companies. They said that the insurers, meanwhile, blamed the archdiocese for its negligence and many of them refused for years to accept liability.
This settlement could have taken place four years ago, and did not, said Venus Soltan, a lawyer who handled 50 of the cases. This case has always been about the victims and the church. It is not about insurance coverage.
Ms. Soltan said of the cardinal, If he wanted to settle these cases he had it within his ability to do that. Cardinal Mahony said Sunday that the archdiocese would pay $250 million toward the settlement, insurers would pay $227 million, religious orders would pay $60 million and the remainder, $123 million, would come from other sources, like religious orders not yet included in the settlement. The plaintiffs are to receive their payments by Dec. 1.
The archdiocese, its insurers and several religious orders, including the Carmelites, the Franciscans and the Jesuits, have already paid a total of $114 million in several separate agreements to settle 86 claims.
The cardinal, who sat silently through the hearing, apologized Sunday to the victims, saying of the abuse, It should not have happened and should not ever happen again.
After the hearing, many victims said the apology came far too late. Esther Miller, 48, who said she had been suicidal and was not working because of post-traumatic stress, said: I was a committed Catholic. I lost my church.
Michael Parrish contributed reporting from Los Angeles.
Monica Almeida/The New York Times
Rita Milla, a plaintiff against the Los Angeles Archdiocese, with another abuse victim after a record $660 million settlement was accepted.
Cardinal Gives Apology for Abuse Cases in Los Angeles
Published: July 16, 2007
A day after agreeing to a record-breaking $660 million settlement with 508 people who said they were sexually abused by clergy members in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony apologized this afternoon for this horrible sin and crime and said he hoped the settlement would bring a final resolution.
Four years of legal combat ended in a settlement agreement late Saturday night just two days before the Monday start of a trial in which Cardinal Mahony would have been forced to testify.
The settlement is the largest yet in any Catholic diocese amounting to about $1.3 million per person involved. The Roman Catholic Church in the United States has paid more than $2 billion in settlements and legal judgments to victims of sexual abuse and their families.
Attorneys for the archdiocese and the plaintiffs said they are still negotiating details, but that they expect to present an agreement for approval to the judge in the trial on Monday morning.
Some Roman Catholic parishioners in Los Angeles said that they were eager to see the victims compensated, but that the drawn-out legal battle had soured them on Cardinal Mahonys leadership.
I dont think theyre getting enough money. Theres no amount that can compensate them, said Cheryl Ortega, 59, a parishioner at Our Mother of Good Counsel church, in Los Feliz.
Steve Mills, 52, a parishioner there for 25 years, said he was appalled that the negotiations took so long and cost the archdiocese so much money that could have been used to help the poor or build schools.
My opinion of the cardinal has gone down because of all this, Mr. Mills said. And it seems with everybody I talk to this is true.
Cardinal Mahony said that $250 million would be paid by the archdiocese, $227 million by insurers and $60 million by religious orders whose priests and brothers are accused of perpetrating some of the abuse. He said the remainder, $123 million, would come from other sources, including religious orders not yet participating in the settlement.
He said that to pay for the settlement, the archdiocese would sell some properties, liquidate some investments and borrow some money. He said the archdiocese would not need to end any core functions, or to sell any parish properties or schools.
The size of the settlement may reflect the archdioceses tremendous financial risk had it taken these cases to trial, said Carl Tobias, the Williams Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, in Virginia.
California judges and juries are more used to big settlements, or big verdicts, he said. When the defendants are more concerned about their exposure, there is more willingness to pay more in a settlement.
People in Los Angeles who contended they were sexually abused said they were eager to move on, but had some misgivings because they believe that Cardinal Mahony and other church leaders who were culpable would likely never be held personally accountable.
Tony Almeida, a Los Angeles firefighter, said he had been emotionally preparing himself to testify at the trial that was to open Monday that the Rev. Clinton Hagenbach repeatedly molested him and other altar boys, and once pinned him down and raped him. Mr. Almeida, who is 44, said he attributes his alcoholism, aggression, depression and two broken marriages, in part, to the abuse and the years of suppressing the memories.
My life is just a mess. With therapy, I think Im doing a little better. This settlement is not going to fix everything, I understand that, he said, but added, It is a compensation for what Ive gone through. But I still feel the church needs to be held accountable for what theyve done to me, and my life.
He said he was relieved that he would not have to testify in court, because even the three days of giving depositions the first time he had to recount details of the abuse in public caused his blood pressure to spike so high he had to take a leave from work.
I could have gone to trial and won more money. But to tell you the truth, just going through the depositions was hard enough for me, he said. Im tired of the pain and I want to go on with my life.
John Manly, a lawyer for 50 of the plaintiffs in the case, said they had been forced to use the civil courts to expose sexual predators and call church officials to account because the criminal justice system had failed.
I think the question people need to ask themselves is how can Roger Mahony pay three-quarters of a billion for criminal acts, and essentially walk free? Mr. Manly said. Especially since its other peoples money, and he has clearly been give special treatment by law enforcement and the power structure in L.A. When is there going to be some accountability, and if not, why?
Cardinal Mahony said at a news conference this afternoon, Yes, Ive made mistakes.
But I didnt know, he said, that the treatment programs where he sent some predatory priests, before returning them to ministry, were not effective.
He said to the victims that he wished he could restore their lives to where they were before the abuse occurred. Your life, I wish, were like a VHS tape that could be rewound, he said.
Michael Parrish contributed reporting from Los Angeles.