Diocese to settle sex-abuse claims for $660 million

From: http://edition.cnn.com/2007/US/07/14/church.abuse.ap/index.html

Jul 15, 2007

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles reached a settlement agreement Saturday with more than 500 people who allege they were sexually abused by clergy, the main plaintiff's attorney told The Associated Press.

Attorneys for the archdiocese, the nation's largest, and the plaintiffs will release a joint statement Sunday morning and hold a news conference Monday, said plaintiff's attorney Ray Boucher.

The deal is valued at $660 million, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity because the settlement had not been officially announced.

It is by far the largest payout in the church's sexual abuse scandal, and it exceeded earlier reports from sources that the settlement would be between $600 million and $650 million -- between $1.2 million and $1.3 million per plaintiff.

It wasn't immediately clear how the payout would be split among the insurers, the archdiocese and several Roman Catholic religious orders. A judge must sign off on the agreement. Watch an alleged victim say what the settlement will do for her » (http://edition.cnn.com/2007/US/07/14/church.abuse.ap/index.html#cnnSTCVideo)

Tod Tamberg, archdiocese spokesman, declined to comment on any settlement details.

"The archdiocese will be in court Monday morning," he said.

Steven Sanchez, 47, was one of the plaintiffs set to go to trial Monday. He was expected to testify in the trial involving the late Rev. Clinton Hagenbach.

Sanchez, a financial adviser, said the past few months have been especially difficult because he had to repeat his story of abuse for depositions with his attorneys and archdiocese attorneys in preparation for trial.

"We're 48 hours away from starting the trial, and I've been spending a lot of time getting emotionally prepared to take them on, but I'm glad," he said. "It's been a long five years."

A spokeswoman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said at a news conference outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Saturday afternoon that the group had not been apprised of any settlement.

"No matter what happens, no resolution, guilty verdict or settlement magically takes away the pain of having been raped or molested by Catholic priests in this archdiocese," said Mary Grant, the group's regional director.

The settlement would be the largest by a Roman Catholic archdiocese since the clergy sexual abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002.

Among the largest total payouts was $100 million in 2004 by the Diocese of Orange, California, to settle 90 claims. The Diocese of Boston agreed in 2003 to pay $84 million for 552 cases, the same figure the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, agreed last year to pay to settle about 360 claims.

Facing a flood of abuse claims, five dioceses -- Tucson, Arizona; Spokane, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Davenport, Iowa, and San Diego, California -- sought bankruptcy protection.

Last month, the Archdiocese of Portland agreed to pay about $52 million to 175 victims, while setting aside another $20 million for anyone who comes forward in the future.

The Diocese of Spokane, Washington, also recently emerged from bankruptcy protection after agreeing to pay $48 million to settle about 150 claims.

The Los Angeles archdiocese, its insurers and various Roman Catholic orders have paid more than $114 million to settle 86 claims so far.

The largest of those came in December, when the archdiocese reached a $60 million settlement with 45 people whose claims dated from before the mid-1950s and after 1987 -- periods when it had little or no sexual abuse insurance. Several religious orders in California have also reached multimillion-dollar settlements in recent months, including the Carmelites, the Franciscans and the Jesuits.

The resolution of more than 500 other lawsuits against the archdiocese, however, had remained elusive despite years of legal wrangling. Most of the outstanding lawsuits were generated by a 2002 state law that revoked for one year the statute of limitations for reporting sexual abuse.

Cardinal Roger Mahony recently told parishioners in an open letter that the archdiocese was selling its high-rise administrative building and considering the sale of about 50 other nonessential church properties to raise funds for a settlement.

Still, church attorneys had been preparing for 15 trials involving 172 people, with jury selection in the first case to begin Monday.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge overseeing the cases recently ruled that Mahony could be called to testify in the second scheduled trial, and attorneys for plaintiffs wanted to call him in many more.

The same judge also cleared the way for four people to seek punitive damages from the archdiocese -- something that could have opened the church to tens of millions of dollars in payouts if the ruling had been expanded to other cases