Calif. Church May Pay $1.5 Billion to Settle Claims

Reuters/August 29, 2004
By Sarah Tippit

Los Angeles -- People who say they were sexually abused by priests could receive more than $1.5 billion in damages from The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles -- more than any other U.S. diocese has paid, an attorney for more than 100 alleged victims said on Sunday.

The settlement figure is based on a request by the lead attorney for hundreds of plaintiffs who live within the most populous U.S. archdiocese that Church officials set aside $3.1 million for each claimant in Los Angeles and the adjacent Diocese of Orange County just south of Los Angeles, attorney Kathy Freberg told Reuters.

The church in Los Angeles faces about 493 child molestation claims, Freberg said. The Orange County diocese faces 63 similar claims. The combined number of claims in both dioceses is greater than in any other diocese, she said.

Raymond Boucher, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told the Los Angeles Times in a report published on Sunday that the requested amount was in line with what a judge proposed during a secret, two-day hearing earlier this year. In court papers, Boucher said the church had $10 billion in liability coverage.

At least 20 insurance companies are involved in litigation on behalf of the church. Most of the suits have been consolidated into a single case in Southern California, which includes alleged incidents dating back to the 1950s.

An attorney for the archdiocese told the Times he thought the $1.5 billion figure was too high. A spokesman for the Los Angeles archdiocese was not immediately available for comment.

Last year, the Archdiocese of Boston agreed to settle lawsuits by 544 plaintiffs alleging sexual abuse by clergy for $85 million. The archdiocese paid out the entire settlement amount and is now suing an insurance company in an attempt to recover some of the loss.

Freberg said that the settlement in Boston was lower than the amount requested in California because Massachusetts law puts a cap on claims on charitable organizations.

"Boston was different," Freberg said. "Victims were concerned about getting their cases dismissed based on (expired) statutes of limitations so they thought it would be better to take this lesser dollar amount than risk getting nothing. We don't have those concerns or restrictive laws in California."

"Jury verdicts historically say that these dollar amounts that are being discussed (in Los Angeles) are right on point," she said.

The church abuse scandal erupted in dioceses throughout the United States two years ago when files released in the case of defrocked priest John Geoghan showed that church leaders knew about the clergyman's behavior but chose to shuttle him from parish to parish.

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