L.A.'s Catholic Archdiocese Eyeing Ways to Settle Suits

Associated Press, carried in Desert Sun
December 4, 2006

Los Angeles - The Archdiocese of Los Angeles could end up selling off some of its vast Southern California land holdings to help cover the cost of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in sex abuse settlement payments.

The nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese said Friday it will pay $60 million to settle 45 abuse lawsuits. As many as 485 suits are still pending.

To make the payments, the archdiocese may unload some of its roughly 1,600 area properties, valued at $4 billion, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

While most of the properties are devoted to churches and schools, the archdiocese also owns oil wells, farm parcels, parking lots, and commercial buildings.

The debate over whether to sell the land is likely to focus on who controls parish holdings - church officials or the parishioners.

Seeking to limit the plaintiffs' access to archdiocese assets, Cardinal Roger Mahony has claimed that churches and schools belong to individual parishes, and officials do not have the authority to sell them.

But church scholars said Mahony has nearly unchecked authority to liquidate church property, ultimately answering only to the pope.

"The cardinal can sell whatever he wants," said Charles Zech, Villanova University economics professor. "Each bishop or each cardinal is the 'pope' of his archdiocese."

The $60 million settlement outlined Friday involves 22 priests and allegations from two periods when the archdiocese had limited or no insurance against sexual abuse claims - prior to the mid-1950s and after 1987.

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

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


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