L.A. Archdiocese to Pay $60 Million in Abuse Suits

By Gillian Flaccus
Associated Press, carried in Fort Worth Star-Telegram
December 2, 2006

Los Angeles - The nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese said Friday that it will pay $60 million to settle 45 sexual abuse lawsuits, the largest payout yet by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and among the biggest resulting from the molestation scandal plaguing the church.

The cases were among more than 500 abuse claims pending against the archdiocese.

"It's a day of healing and reconciliation as we move forward with these 45 cases," Cardinal Roger Mahony said. "This is very special for these victims in their moment of healing."

The claims settled Friday involve 22 priests and include allegations from two periods when the archdiocese had limited or no insurance against sexual abuse claims -- before the mid-1950s and after 1987.

Mahony said that $40 million of the payment will come from the archdiocese and that $20 million will be from religious orders plus a small amount of independent insurance coverage.

Negotiations on the deal had been in progress for at least a year but were held up because attorneys for the plaintiffs wanted the church to release the accused priests' private personnel files.

The agreement calls for an independent judge to review those files and decide which documents can be released to the accusers. That process is expected to take several months.

Ray Boucher, the lead plaintiffs' attorney, said the settlement is the largest the archdiocese has reached "by far." Boucher said at least two plaintiffs died while awaiting the resolution.

"I wasn't certain we would ever get it done, but thankfully 45 very injured people will have a chance to begin to heal, particularly at this time of the year," he said.

"The big concern is the 700 or 800 victims who are out there who still have claims pending," he said.

Boucher said that not all the plaintiffs' attorneys had signed off on the final documents but that the process was expected to be completed by Monday.

Mary Dispenza, one plaintiff who will receive money, was relieved at the news and said it will help her heal. The former nun said she was abused by the now-defrocked Rev. Neville Rucker beginning in 1947, when she was 7.

"I don't know that I can ever reconcile with the church. That isn't even my goal," Dispenza, of Bellevue, Wash., said in a phone interview. "I just want to be at peace with myself, and I am."

Don Steier, an attorney for Rucker and 10 other accused priests, declined to comment about specific allegations in the lawsuits.

David Clohessy, national director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he was happy for the victims who were part of the settlement but remained angry at Mahony and other church leaders.

"We recognize it for what it is, which is a purely business move designed to keep Mahony out of depositions and off the witness stand. That's what every bishop fears the most, and that's why they settled," Clohessy said.

"His claim to care about healing is ludicrous in light of his expensive and hardball effort for years to delay and stall."

Sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests has cost the U.S. church at least $1.5 billion since 1950.

Archdiocese of Los Angeles,

Major settlements

Sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests has cost the U.S. church more than $1.5 billion since 1950. Following is a list of some of the largest known payouts since the crisis intensified in 2002 with revelations that a molester priest was moved among parishes in the Boston Archdiocese without parents or police being alerted:

Diocese of Orange, Calif., 2004, $100 million for 90 abuse claims.

Diocese of Covington, Ky., 2006, up to $85 million for about 350 people.

Archdiocese of Boston, 2003, $85 million for 552 claims.

Archdiocese of Los Angeles, 2006, $60 million for 45 lawsuits.

Diocese of Oakland, Calif., 2005, $56 million to 56 people.

Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., 2003, $25.7 million to 243 victims.

Diocese of Tucson, Ariz., 2005, agrees to fund a settlement trust worth about $22 million for more than 50 victims as part of a plan to emerge from bankruptcy protection.


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