these micks sure had been busy...

  1. 4,434 Posts.
    ...having lots of fun behind the pulpit!

    California Diocese Settles Abuse Cases; Record Sum Is Seen

    Published: December 4, 2004

    LOS ANGELES, Dec. 3 - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County has reached a record settlement with 87 victims of abuse by priests and lay employees, agreeing to the largest payment ever made by the church in cases involving sexual misconduct, parties involved in the talks said.

    The payment is at least $100 million, exceeding the $85 million agreed to by the Archdiocese of Boston last year, said a participant in the discussions who could not be named because of a judicial order against speaking to the news media.

    Other terms of the settlement, reached late Thursday night in a Los Angeles courtroom, were not disclosed, although lawyers for the plaintiffs said thousands of pages of documents chronicling decades of abuse by members of the clergy and others would be released in the coming months.

    In a statement, Bishop Tod D. Brown, who participated in the marathon negotiations at the Los Angeles civil courthouse, said the settlement was "both fair and compassionate" and would not force the church to close any of its schools and parish churches. He said he would send a penitential letter to each victim.

    The record settlement averaging more than $1 million per victim raises the stakes for other dioceses facing lawsuits arising from accusations of child molesting by priests, lawyers and outside experts said. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the nation's largest, alone faces 500 claims of abuse. Its leader, Archbishop Roger Mahony, is engaged in a bitter legal battle with plaintiffs' lawyers seeking monetary damages.

    All of the claims settled in the Orange County case arose from abuse committed before Bishop Brown took over the diocese in 1998. The suits alleged misconduct by 30 priests, 11 lay employees and 2 nuns.

    "I want to take this opportunity to again extend on behalf of the Diocese of Orange and myself, a sincere apology, a request for forgiveness and a heartfelt hope for reconciliation and healing," Bishop Brown said.

    He emerged from talks Thursday night to speak with about two dozen abuse victims who had waited for hours in the hall for word of a deal.

    The Diocese of Orange serves more than one million Roman Catholics, in the sprawling and diverse county. It split off from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1976 and is now the 10th-largest Roman Catholic diocese in the United States.

    A spokesman for the Orange County Diocese, the Rev. Joe Fenton, said that the award would be paid from existing church assets and from the diocese's insurance policies. He said that none of the diocese's pastoral, educational or charitable activities would be affected.

    At the end of 2003, the diocese had $23 million in cash and $171 million in investment accounts, according to public financial records. Father Fenton said insurance coverage represented a "significant portion" of the settlement amount.

    Joelle Casteix was one of the victims whose suit was settled on Thursday and who camped out in the hallway at the request of the arbitrator hearing the case, Judge Owen Lee Kwong of Superior Court.

    Ms. Casteix, 34, was repeatedly sexually abused and became pregnant by a lay teacher at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana when she was a teenager in the 1980's.

    She said she was gratified that the church was finally coming to grips with the scandal. She said that when lawyers emerged from the courtroom Thursday night, victims cried and embraced each other and Bishop Brown.

    Ms. Casteix said that the money was a welcome sign of the church's admission of error but that the church would have to do more to win forgiveness.

    "Forgiveness requires not only the 'I'm sorry' from the bishop, but accountability and a sincere effort to ensure the crime will never happen again," she said. "We have the apology and now the accountability in the form of the financial settlement. But for the final step in forgiveness, there has to be that continued vigilance to make sure it never happens again."

    Settlement talks among plaintiffs' lawyers, the diocese and its insurance companies have stretched over two years and reached an impasse in June, when the plaintiffs rejected a settlement offer of $40 million. But the stalemate was broken this week after Judge Kwon summoned the parties and kept them talking late into the night all week.

    Raymond P. Boucher, a Beverly Hills lawyer who represented many of the victims, said the settlement brought relief and some compensation but fell short of full justice.

    "From the standpoint of these young men and women who lost so much of their lives to this horror and this nightmare, they will have a chance for a new beginning," Mr. Boucher said. "Obviously there's no amount of money, no amount of revelations from the documents that can ever fill the chasm that has been created in them. From that standpoint, it's an imperfect justice."

    He praised Bishop Brown for his cooperative approach to the litigation: "From the beginning Bishop Brown has attempted to reach out, he has taken positive steps, put his neck on line, taken the heat from other bishops. He has tried to do the right thing."

    Another of the plaintiffs' lawyers, Katherine K. Freberg, said that because claims against the Roman Catholic Church in California had been consolidated into a limited number of cases for trial or negotiation, some victims would be satisfied by the agreement while others might feel slighted. Some early individual cases in the state had been settled for as much as $5 million.

    "Some victims will say they got their justice," Ms. Freberg said. "Others will say that there were so many victims they were caught up in this quagmire of having to litigate their cases not individually but as a coordinated action."

    The Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of America, a Catholic magazine, said that the Orange County settlement may or may not prove a template for other dioceses facing similar suits. While Orange County has the assets to cover the settlement, poorer areas may not be able to afford such compensation and may choose, or be forced, to take their cases to trial.

    Father Reese also said that such settlements created a new class of victims - those who will not receive the scholarships, shelters, counseling services, legal aid or food programs that would have been provided by the money paid to abuse victims.

    "Sooner or later we're going to see a cut in services and problems all the way along the line, and down into the parishes," he said. "We saw it in Boston and we're going to see it everywhere else."
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