Orange County Catholic Church Negotiating Settlement

The Associated Press, carried in Herald-Tribune
June 14, 2004

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Orange County's Catholic churches may soon announce a financial settlement with nearly 100 people who have brought charges of sexual abuse, according to a letter from the head of the Catholic Diocese of Orange County.

The settlement could enact a heavy financial toll, but it would also avoid "costly, time-consuming trials where the outcomes are unpredictable," said the letter from Bishop Tod D. Brown that was read during Sunday services.

The Los Angeles Times, citing sources it did not identify, said the diocese made a settlement offer of $40 million last fall, but it was rejected. In his letter, Brown disclosed that both sides remain "very far apart."

"It's a very difficult balancing act," Brown said of the negotiations in an interview with the Times. "I want to reach out to the victims, and at the same time, I don't want to shut down the church."

The largest Catholic church abuse settlement made so far was in Boston, where the archdiocese agreed last September to pay $85 million to 552 people. The Archdiocese of Louisville has agreed to pay $25.7 million to 27 people, and the Archdiocese of Chicago has agreed to give $12 million to 19 people.

Brown canceled plans to attend a U.S. Conference of Bishops meeting in Denver this week so he could be available for settlement talks scheduled to begin Monday.

He said he would put a new offer on the table at that time, but declined to say how much it would be.

"This will be a really short session," if the offer isn't substantially higher than the last one, said Raymond P. Boucher, a Beverly Hills attorney who is acting as a liaison for alleged victims of church abuse in Southern California.

But Boucher added he is optimistic a settlement with the Diocese of Orange County can be reached by a court-imposed July deadline.

At the same time, he said there was "virtually no chance" of the much larger Los Angeles County Catholic Archdiocese reaching a similar settlement by that deadline with approximately 500 people who charge they were abused.

Part of the problem in Los Angeles County, Boucher said, is the sheer number of cases and insurance carriers involved, which has slowed the process.


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