Payout Is Bittersweet for Victims of Abuse
July 17, 2007
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 nation’s 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 don’t want Mahony going around saying everything is all right, because it’s not,” said Rita Milla, 45, a medical assistant who lives in Carson. “My church acted like it didn’t 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.
“It’s 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 I’m 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 counsel’s 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 Mahony’s leadership.
“I don’t think they’re getting enough money. There’s 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 archdiocese’s 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 I’m 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 I’ve gone through. But I still feel the church needs to be held accountable for what they’ve 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. “I’m 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 it’s other people’s 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, I’ve made mistakes.”
“But I didn’t 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.
Los Angeles Catholic church to pay 660 mln to abuse victimsAFP - Monday, July 16 http://sg.news.yahoo.com/afp/20070715/tts-us-religion-crime-abuse-c1b2fc3.html
LOS ANGELES (AFP) - - The Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles apologized Sunday to hundreds of people sexually abused by its priests after agreeing to a record 660-million-dollar settlement, the biggest in US history.
Lawyers for the Los Angeles archdiocese and 508 victims of abuse dating back to the 1940s thrashed out the massive settlement on the eve of a potentially explosive court case due to open on Monday.
Archdiocese head Cardinal Roger Mahony -- who has been accused by angry victims of attempting to cover up pedophilia cases during his reign -- told a press conference that the cases should never have happened.
"This long journey has now come to an end, and a new chapter of that journey is beginning," Mahony said.
"Once again I apologize to anyone who has been offended, who's been abused by priests, by deacons, by religious men and women or by lay people ... It should not have happened and should not ever happen again."
Mahony said he was haunted by the fact that victims would never be able to reclaim their innocence.
"It is the one part of the settlement process I find so frustrating, because the one thing I wish I could give the victims, I cannot," he said.
Ray Boucher, the lead attorney for the victims, said the settlement was "long overdue."
"Some of the victims have waited more than five decades for a chance at reconciliation and resolution," Boucher said. "This is a down payment on that debt long overdue."
Attorneys for both sides will appear in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday to file the settlement, which must be approved by a judge.
The deal will be the largest settlement by any Roman Catholic archdiocese to sex abuse victims in the United States.
Abuse cases across the country have cost Roman Catholic churches around 2.1 billion dollars to date. Several priests have been convicted and at least four dioceses have gone bankrupt paying civil penalties.
The Los Angeles church is expected to sell off assets from its estimated four billion dollar real estate holdings to pay for the settlement.
The church had already settled 46 cases in December for 60 million dollars.
John Manly, a lawyer who represented around 50 victims who now stand to receive payouts of 1.2-1.3 million dollars each, told AFP the archdiocese had settled to avoid the embarrassment of a court case.
Manly said the release of internal documents as part of the settlement would raise questions over the leadership of Mahony.
"I think when people see the documents and see what he knew and what he did they will be stunned," Manly told AFP.
Victims accuse Mahony of allegedly covering up evidence of child molestation by transferring priests to other churches and for trying to keep the abuse reports secret.
"Cardinal Mahony paying out money is great, but where is the accountability from the hierarchy of the church?" Manly said. "They will continue their lives as normal; the victims still have to deal with a lifetime of problems."
Manly questioned why Mahony had not been held to account.
"If what transpired under his leadership was bad enough to pay a half billion dollars, why is he still walking free, and why hasn't the district attorney taken action against him?" Manly said.
Barbara Blaine, the leader of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a nationwide victims support group, meanwhile called the settlement "wonderful news for all the victims."
She praised the "brave victims, compassionate lawmakers and victims' attorneys, who took hard, uncertain cases and overcame seemingly endless hardball tactics by bishops" to win the case.
Blaine said she believed the church had settled not out of compassion, but to avoid disclosing "under oath, in open court, how much the church's corporate officials knew about and how little they did about pedophile priests, nuns, brothers and seminarians."
Blaine said she hoped the church documents detailing the abuse cases would expose the truth.
"No amount of money can give the victims back their lost innocence and stolen childhoods, but hopefully this will put some closure on a very painful part of their lives," she said.
The Los Angeles settlement dwarfs figures from other cases. The previous biggest payout was in Boston, where victims accepted a deal worth 157 million dollars.