Bishop Accountability
  Orange County Catholic Church in Talks to Settle Abuse Cases

By Ben Fox
Associated Press
June 15, 2004

Orange, CA - Lawyers for sexual abuse victims and Orange County's Roman Catholic diocese met Monday in an effort to beat a July deadline and reach a settlement that could be among the largest in the nation involving the church.

Lawyers for plaintiffs in nearly 100 lawsuits against the church met in mediation session with attorneys for the Diocese of Orange and its insurers. The meeting was closed to the media and public and a gag order barred participants from disclosing details.

Participants declined to say whether the church had made an offer at the session. One attorney, Raymond Boucher, said it did not appear that a settlement was imminent. The group broke hours later without reaching a settlement.

Boucher declined to discuss details, citing the gag order.

"There was some hope that we would be able to have some negotiations and discussions today and that still might take place but there are still some issues pending, things with insurance and other things," he said during a break in the proceedings.

A coordinating trial judge had previously set a July 21 deadline for a settlement before he would begin to set a trial schedule for the lawsuits, which allege abuse by clergy, religious or lay personnel in a diocese that serves more than 1 million Catholics.

Bishop Tod D. Brown of the Diocese of Orange canceled plans to attend a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting this week in Denver and warned Sunday that the "window of opportunity" for settling the cases was closing, an apparent reference to the deadline.

"Nothing would please us more than to promptly resolve these cases completely since a resolution would promote healing and provide fair compensation to many of those who have been injured by priests and others," Brown wrote in a letter to parishioners on Sunday.

In the letter, the bishop noted that the plaintiff's attorneys and the church remained "very far apart" on a settlement amount and that it remained unclear how much of the damage the insurance companies for the diocese would cover.

The lawsuits against the diocese are among about 800 by people across California who took advantage of a 12-month window last year to file molestation lawsuits against the church. About 500 of the cases are against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the nation's largest.

A settlement of the Orange cases could serve as a blueprint for other cases in Southern California that have not yet reached the mediation stage.

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.

[Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus in Los Angeles contributed to this report.]


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