Judge OKs $660M Clergy Abuse Settlement

Associated Press/July 17, 2007
By Gillian Flaccus

Los Angeles -- Sobs and a moment of silence for those who died during years of negotiations punctuated a Monday hearing at which a judge accepted a $660 million settlement between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and alleged victims of clergy sex abuse.

"This is the right result," said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Haley Fromholz.

The settlement is by far the largest payout by any diocese since the clergy abuse scandal emerged in Boston in 2002. Individual payouts, to be made by Dec. 1, will vary according to the severity of each case.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, whose archdiocese counts 4.3 million Catholics, sat through the hearing but did not speak. He issued an apology Sunday after the settlement was announced and said Monday in a statement that he would spend the rest of the day praying for those who claimed abuse.

Ray Boucher, the lead plaintiffs' attorney, asked his clients to stand during the hearing and thanked them for their resolve and their courage, before breaking down in tears.

"It's their courage and commitment that made this possible, and I think they deserve a tremendous debt of gratitude," he said.

"I know it's hard for most of the victims whose scars are very deep ... and I know many will never forgive the cardinal," he said. "But he took steps that I think that only he could take, and if left to the lawyers and others in the church, he would not have settled this case."

The attorney for the archdiocese, Michael Hennigan, also appeared emotional as he told the court that his views of clergy sexual abuse changed dramatically during the years he spent trying to hammer out an agreement. He said private meetings with 70 of the plaintiffs made the most impact.

"It changed us all, and it changed our perspective on what's happened here," he said.

"I'd like to say that the church would have been reformed without these cases, but I don't know that's true," he said. "These cases have forever reformed the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It will never be the same."

Mahony made several trips to Rome in recent weeks to get the Vatican's support for the settlement, Hennigan said.

District Attorney Steve Cooley said in a statement that there could still be a criminal case, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on statutes of limitations in molestation cases.

"We are aware there could be records that may become available to us as a result of today's settlement. If these documents reveal evidence of criminal activity on behalf of individual priests or anyone else, we will pursue them," Cooley said. "The book is not closed on our investigation."

Dozens of people who have alleged abuse gathered outside the courthouse to talk about the settlement.

Mary Ferrell said she was abused for two years beginning in 1956 by a priest in San Pedro. Ferrell said she never imagined she would be talking about it in a public square.

"When I was 7, I didn't tell anyone," she said. "I didn't know what he'd done to me, and I didn't have the terms. I was totally alone, and I carried it with me for all these years."

Because of the abuse, Ferrell said, she has spent a lifetime battling with alcoholism and drug abuse.

"I isolate myself because it's the only place I feel safe. Having met all these other victims, it's like they're my brothers and sisters," she said.

Esther Miller, 48, said she was repeatedly sexually abused as a teenager by a deacon in Van Nuys. The deacon, who was later defrocked, would sing Gregorian chants and make her wear a scapular while he molested her, she said.

Because of the abuse, Miller said, she has lost 19 jobs and been divorced three times. She currently does not work and has problems controlling her anger, she said.

"This settlement means I was telling the truth, I was telling my truth. It was not an allegation," Miller said, crying. "I'm going to show the world."

Mahony said Sunday that the settlement will not have an impact on the archdiocese's core ministry, but that the church will have to sell buildings, use some of its invested funds and borrow money. The archdiocese will not sell parish properties or schools, he said.

The deal settles all 508 cases that remained against the archdiocese, which also paid $60 million in December to settle 45 cases that weren't covered by sexual abuse insurance.

The archdiocese, the nation's largest, will pay $250 million, insurance carriers will pay a combined $227 million and several religious orders will chip in $60 million.

The remaining $123 million will come from litigation with religious orders that chose not to participate in the deal, with the archdiocese guaranteeing resolution of those 80 to 100 cases within five years, Hennigan said. The archdiocese is released from liability in those claims, said Tod Tamberg, church spokesman.

Plaintiffs' attorneys can expect to receive up to 40 percent of the settlement money _ or $264 million.

The settlements push the total amount paid out by the U.S. church since 1950 to more than $2 billion.

Previously, the Los Angeles archdiocese, its insurers and various Roman Catholic orders had paid more than $114 million to settle 86 claims. Several religious orders in California have also reached multimillion-dollar settlements in recent months, including the Carmelites, the Franciscans and the Jesuits.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.