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Catholic Church Reaches Settlement With Abuse Victims

By GILLIAN FLACCUS
Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) - After a whirlwind weekend, the negotiations that produced a landmark $660 million settlement between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and more than 500 alleged victims of clergy abuse are heading toward a conclusion.

Attorneys from both sides, as well as Cardinal Roger Mahony, are expected in court Monday to enter a formal settlement agreement with Judge Haley Fromholtz. The deal marks the end of more than five years of negotiations and is by far the largest payout by any diocese since the clergy abuse scandal emerged in Boston in 2002.

Mahony, leader of the nation's largest archdiocese, apologized Sunday to the hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims who will receive a share of the settlement.

"There really is no way to go back and give them that innocence that was taken from them. The one thing I wish I could give the victims ... I cannot," he said.

"Once again, I apologize to anyone who has been offended, who has been abused. It should not have happened and should not ever happen again."

Mahony said he has met with dozens of victims of clergy abuse in the past 14 months and those meetings helped him understand the importance of a quick resolution to what he called a "terrible sin and crime."

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

"We gather today because this long journey has now come to an end and a new chapter of that journey is beginning," Mahony told reporters.

The settlement also calls for the release of priests' confidential personnel files after review by a judge.

"I think for those of us who have been involved in this for more than five years, it's a huge relief," said Michael Hennigan, archdiocese attorney. "But it's a disappointment, too, that we didn't get it done much earlier than this."

Parishioners reacted with a mix of disappointment and relief.

Vivian Viscarra, 50, who attends Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels three times a month, said the victims deserve the payout even though it could hurt the church's ability to deliver important services. The amount would average a little more than $1.3 million per plaintiff, although individual payouts will vary according to the severity and duration of the abuse.

"I am disappointed," Viscarra said. "And it's making me reevaluate my views of whether people in the ministry should be married. People do have needs."

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 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 - for their work.

The settlements push the total amount paid out by the U.S. church since 1950 to more than $2 billion, with about a quarter of that coming from the Los Angeles archdiocese. A judge must sign off on the agreement.

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.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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