By Alex Johnson and John Larson; MSNBC and NBC News
LOS ANGELES – Alleged victims of clergy abuse said Monday that they were conflicted over their historic $660 million settlement with the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, tempering their yearning for their day in court with compassion for deeply scarred victims who need help now.
The settlement is the largest ever in litigation over sexual abuse by clergy. The 508 alleged victims in the litigation will, on average, receive about $1.3 million apiece before court costs, far more than plaintiffs in Boston received five years ago.
For some, however, the money is immaterial
I’m not so sure that we can necessarily call it justice,” said one of the plaintiffs, Carlos Perez-Carrillo, who accused the Rev. John Anthony Salazar of repeatedly molesting him at St. Bernard High School in Playa del Rey during the 1980s.
“Mostly what I’ve gone through is being shunned by Catholics and the Catholic Church,” Perez-Carrillo said in an interview with MSNBC. “I’ve always felt that I’ve been viewed as a pariah because I actually came forward and actually denounced what was happening.”
Apology falls short for many
Perez-Carrillo and other victims said they regretted that archdiocese leaders, especially Cardinal Roger Mahony, would not appear in court to acknowledge under oath what had happened to them and others over the past 70 years.
Many victims accuse Mahony of having swept the abuse problem under the rug by transferring accused priests from parish to parish.
Mahony offered an apology at a news conference Sunday, but Perez-Carrillo dismissed it as inadequate.
“When you’ve been dealing with this and going through the process and dealing with spin doctoring and covering up, you’re really quite skeptical about whether an apology is genuine,” he said.
“It’s just a little bit too little and a little bit too late,” added Perez-Carrillo, whose alleged abuser, Salazar, later moved to Texas and was convicted of sexually abusing an 18-year-old man. He is serving life in prison.
Esther Miller, who has accused Michael Nocita, who later left the priesthood to marry, of having abused her at St. Bridget’s of Sweden in Van Nuys during the 1970s, insisted that “in no way does it come close to apologizing.”
But Miller, who said the trauma of her abuse led her to develop an eating disorder, said many of her fellow victims were in dire straits and had nowhere else to turn.
“Many of us have secondary issues,” she said. “Obviously, my drug of choice was food, [but] some of the other survivors have opted for alcohol addiction, for cocaine addiction.
“So now what we can do with that settlement money is to apply it do self-care and try to make our lives a little bit better.”
Mahony reiterated his apology after the hearing Monday, but he declined to comment further because “this day in particular is a day for the victims to speak.”
Can archdiocese make the payment?
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Haley Fromholz approved the landmark settlement Monday morning at a dramatic hearing marked by the sobs of victims and their attorneys.
The archdiocese itself is on the hook for a quarter-billion dollars, more than a third of the final settlement, raising questions about whether the archdiocese could meet its obligations without going into bankruptcy.
The rest will be paid by insurance carriers, other church sources and litigation with religious orders that did not participate in the arrangement.
Mahony has promised that no funds directly relating to the church’s mission would be used. He said the archdiocese had been segregating funds to pay for the litigation for some time.
Still, archdiocese officials told NBC News, an undetermined percentage of parishioners’ offerings would be paid out to alleged victims, and they said they would likely have to sell some church property unrelated to direct ministry, such as underused hospitals.
Key to the settlement is the church’s agreement not to try to block the release of accused priests’ confidential personnel files, which it will turn over to a retired judge for review.
Some records, such as psychological examinations, cannot be released. But plaintiffs lawyers said they expected many details of alleged abuses by more than 200 accused priests would be brought to light in the months and years to come.
The father of one alleged victim, who he said was repeatedly abused as a youngster by a “dear friend,” said the release of the records was a big victory for the plaintiffs.
“We want to know that our house is clean,” said the man, who asked NBC News not to identify him to protect his child.
Settlement driven by circumstances
Alleged victims and attorneys said both sides were under a pressing deadline to reach the settlement, with the first court trial in the litigation scheduled to have begun later Monday. They said the church’s insurers were unwilling to let the cases reach juries, and that many victims were reluctant to relive their experiences on the stand.
“I think the timing is very interesting,” said Lee Bashforth, a plaintiff who is head of the Orange County chapter of the advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
“This has been a long and painful struggle that’s lasted more than five years for many of us,” he said in an interview with MSNBC, “and I don’t think it’s any surprise that it’s being settled now.”
Michael Hennigan, an attorney for the archdiocese, told reporters: “I think for those of us who have been involved in this for more than five years, it’s a huge relief. But it’s a disappointment, too, that we didn’t get it done much earlier than this.”