The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES – Cardinal Roger Mahony, leader of the nation’s largest Roman Catholic archdiocese, apologized Sunday to the hundreds of people who will get a share of a $660 million settlement over allegations of clergy sex abuse.
“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 that he has met in the past 14 months with dozens of people alleging clergy abuse and that those meetings helped him understand the importance of a quick resolution to what he called a “terrible sin and crime.”
The settlement will not affect the archdiocese’s core ministry, Mahony said, but the church will have to sell buildings, use some of its invested funds and borrow money. The archdiocese will not sell any parish property, he said.
“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 deal between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and more than 500 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse reached late Saturday is by far the largest payout since the nationwide clergy abuse scandal emerged in 2002 in Boston.
Release of confidential files
The settlement also calls for the release of priests’ confidential personnel files after review by a judge. According to Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the archdiocese, the settlement had not required Mahony to make his public apology.
Earlier Sunday, Mahony presided over Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles without directly addressing the settlement. The service did include a prayer for victims of clergy abuse.
Mahony and all parties are expected before a Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Monday to enter the settlement into the court record, attorneys said.
“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 disappointment and relief to the settlement.
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 re-evaluate my views of whether people in the ministry should be married. People do have needs.”
Chris Parra, who attends Mass every Sunday, said she couldn’t help thinking about the settlement when she shook Mahony’s hand on the way out of the cathedral.
“Even when I was standing there, shaking his hand, I was thinking about how he’s finally going to release the priests’ personnel records and I wondered to myself why didn’t he do that sooner,” she said, holding her baby, Tomas.
Parra said she was upset that her tithing would go toward paying the settlement.
“I still want my children to follow the church’s guidelines and foundation because that’s how I was raised,” she said. “But there’s still a lot of healing to be done.”
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.
Under the latest deal, 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, Tamberg said.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys can expect to receive as much as 40 percent of the settlement money – or $264 million – for their work.
‘Not a magic wand’
Standing outside the cathedral, Mary Grant, spokeswoman for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the settlement did not end suffering for the thousands of victims of clergy abuse.
“This is not over,” she said. “Church officials would like to think that this settlement means everything is OK. … But this is not a magic wand.”
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.
The Los Angeles archdiocese, its insurers and various Roman Catholic orders have paid more than $114 million to settle 86 claims so far.
Several religious orders in California have also reached multimillion-dollar settlements in recent months, including the Carmelites, the Franciscans and the Jesuits.