Archdiocese in Los Angeles Settles Claim of sex abuse

(The New York Times) LOS ANGELES, Dec. 1 – The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles has agreed to a $60 million settlement of claims by 45 people against clergymen who had sexually abused them as children, the archdiocese announced Friday.

The average payment of about $1.3 million to each plaintiff is among the highest in a sexual abuse settlement involving clergy members. In October, the archdiocese settled seven other claims for a total of $10 million.

The archdiocese will pay $40 million of the settlement from its central operations fund with the rest coming from insurance money and the religious orders of the 25 accused clergymen. The money will not be taken from individual parishes, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the head of the archdiocese, said in a telephone interview.

Over 500 sexual abuse lawsuits are still pending against the archdiocese, the country’s largest. Payouts in those cases would come mostly from insurance, but the archdiocese may have to sell property or reduce ministry services to make up the difference, Cardinal Mahony said.

“Is it going to hurt? Oh sure, we could have used the money for other pastoral works,” he said. “But it’s also an acknowledgment and a recognition of our responsibility, that the church failed these people. The church accepts responsibility, and I accept responsibility.”

The settlement also involves the release of some documents related to the abuse cases, in a manner to be determined by a judge.

Raymond P. Boucher, a lawyer for 31 of the plaintiffs, criticized the archdiocese for announcing the settlement before the details were final, but he did not dispute its general terms. Payments to individual plaintiffs range from about $500,000 to as much as $3.5 million, Mr. Boucher said.

“You look at the 45 victims, and you see that almost all of them would have lived normal lives and normal healthy lives and had wonderful childhoods if the church had taken responsibility to stop these priests from molesting these children,” Mr. Boucher said. “It’s a clear indictment of the church and the pattern of cover-up they’ve engaged in for years and years.”

The earliest of the accusations dates from the 1940s and the most recent from the late 1990s. Many of the accused were repeat offenders, Mr. Boucher said, including Michael Wempe, a retired priest who was sentenced in May to three years in prison for molesting a boy.

Another accused priest in the settlement, according to Mr. Boucher, was the Rev. Michael Baker, who confessed to then-Archbishop Mahony in 1986 that he had had a sexual relationship with two young boys. After undergoing counseling, Father Baker was assigned to parishes where he still had access to young boys, according to files released by the archdiocese.

Prosecutors have charged Mr. Baker, who was removed from the priesthood in 2000, with sexually abusing a boy for 12 years beginning in 1984 when the victim was 7.

“Many years ago, we really believed that these offenders could be cured and we acted on that information,” Cardinal Mahony said in the interview. “We found out in the early 1990s that that was not true.”

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the archdiocese made “a business decision” to avoid the expense of going to trial. She said of the victims, “I don’t believe any amount of money can restore their shattered childhoods, the innocence that was destroyed or the emotional scars that haunt them today.”


Cindy Chang