Church to Pay $60 Million
L.A. Archdiocese Settles Abuse Cases

San Gabriel Valley Tribune
December 2, 2006

Los Angeles - The nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese said Friday it will pay $60 million to settle 45 sexual abuse lawsuits, marking the largest deal by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to date and the fourth-largest in the country involving the scandal.

The cases were among more than 500 pending against the Los Angeles archdiocese.

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

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

The 22 priests include Michael Baker, who was assigned to St. Paul of the Cross in La Mirada and St. Hilary Church in Pico Rivera; Richard Henry, who served at St. Joseph Church in Long Beach and St. Madeline Church in Pomona; and Michael Wempe, who had worked at St. Andrew in Pasadena.

It couldn't be determined Friday if any of the 45 cases were in the San Gabriel Valley.

Mahony said $40 million would come from the archdiocese, while $20 million would be from religious orders and a small amount of independent insurance coverage.

Archdiocese officials said the money had been set aside last year. In a statement, Mahony said no parishes will be affected as as result of the settlement.

"I again offer my personal apology to every victim who has suffered sexual abuse by a priest or deacon in this Archdiocese," Mahony said. "The sexual abuse of minors is both a sin and a crime, and there is no place in the priesthood for those who have abused children."

Negotiations for the settlement of the uninsured cases 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 as a part of the deal.

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

Ray Boucher, the lead plaintiffs attorney, said the settlement was the largest the Los Angeles archdiocese had reached "by far." Boucher said at least two plaintiffs had 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."

Boucher said it was premature for the archdiocese to say there's a settlement.

"We're close," he said. "(We) still have some things to iron out."

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

Don Steier, an attorney who represents many of the accused priests, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

David Clohessy, national director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he was happy for the accusers' 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," Clohessy said. "That's what every bishop fears the most and that's why they settled.

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

Mary Grant, western regional director for SNAP and also a victim of clergy abuse, said they are happy that there is a settlement for the 45 accusers.

"And this is only happening because of their courage to come forward and their strength to expose their perpetrators and church officials who aided and abetted their crimes," Grant said.

She pointed out that there are still more than 500 cases against the archdiocese.

"This is far from over. It is as if 45 people made it to hospital and 500 are outside still," Grant said, adding that she hopes the news will encourage other victims to come forward.

News of the settlement was also welcomed by Udo Strutynski , an Alhambra-based lawyer whose case against the Society of Jesus and the archdiocese is ongoing.

"I am very happy for the 45 people. this is not a cure-all. This does not pay you for all the suffering," the 64-year-old Highland Park resident said.

He added that no amount of money can undo the damage.

The church is still failing to stand up and say it was wrong, Strutynski said.

He said the church was wrong to let the abusers pick their victims; when it didn't reach out to the victims; and when it didn't separate the victims from the predators. The church transferred priests and didn't warn anybody, Strutynski said, adding it also denied the allegations of abuse.

"Now they expect anyone reasonable to believe they're now showing compassion," Strutynski said.

Strutynski alleged that Father Tom Sullivan molested him from 1956 to 1958. He was a student at Loyola High School while Sullivan was a resident at the Jesuit faculty place but not connected to the school.

A report by the archdiocese showed Sullivan established the Manresa Retreat in Azusa and directed retreats from 1947 to 1955. Sullivan died Feb. 2, 1992.

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

Friday's settlement was the largest in California since 2004, when the Diocese of Orange agreed to spend $100 million to settle 90 abuse claims. It was also the fourth-largest in the nation since the clergy abuse crisis erupted in the Archdiocese of Boston in 2002, according to an AP review of settlements.

Four dioceses - Tucson, Ariz.; Spokane, Wash.; Portland, Ore., and Davenport, Iowa - sought bankruptcy protection from a flood of lawsuits. Tucson has emerged from the process.


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