Monday, July 16, 2007

Done Deal

The LA settlement was agreed to by a judge and all parties at a hearing earlier today.

Final figures: 508 claimants, $660 million -- "up to 40%" of which goes to plaintiffs' attorneys.
From the wire:

Some of the plaintiffs sobbed as the deal was formally approved and a moment of silence was held for others who had died during the years of negotiations.

"This is the right result," said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Haley Fromholz. "Settling the cases was the right thing to do, and it was done by dint of a number of extremely talented and dedicated people putting in an awful lot of time."

The deal came after more than five years of negotiations and is by far the largest payout by any diocese since the clergy abuse scandal emerged in Boston in 2002.

The individual payouts will vary according to the severity and duration of the abuse alleged. The plaintiffs' attorneys are expected to receive up to 40 percent of the settlement.

Ray Boucher, the lead plaintiffs' attorney, asked his clients to stand during the hearing and thanked them for their resolve and their courage.

"I know it's hard for most of the victims whose scars are very deep ... and I know many will never forgive the cardinal," he said. "But he took steps that I think that only he could take and if left to the lawyers and others in the church he would not have settled this case."

Cardinal Roger Mahony sat through the hearing but did not speak. Mahony, who has led the archdiocese since 1985, issued an apology on Sunday after the settlement was announced.

"There really is no way to go back and give them that innocence that was taken from them. The one thing I wish I could give the victims ... I cannot," Mahony said Sunday. "Once again, I apologize to anyone who has been offended, who has been abused. It should not have happened and should not ever happen again."

Outside court, though, some plaintiffs weren't ready to accept the cardinal's words.

Lee Bashforth held up a photo of himself as a young boy with the priest he says abused him. He called Mahony's apology "disingenuous" and said the settlement only saved the church from having to face questions before a jury.

"I hope that I'm no longer an 'alleged' victim. Six hundred and sixty million dollars should take that alleged off," said another plaintiff, Steve Sanchez. "Cardinal Mahony got off cheap today."

Mahony has said the settlement would not have an impact on the archdiocese's core ministry, but that the church would have to sell buildings, use some of its invested funds, and borrow money. The settlement also calls for the release of priests' confidential personnel files after review by a judge.

The attorney for the archdiocese, Michael Hennigan, appeared emotional as he told the court that his views of clergy sexual abuse changed during the years he spent trying to hammer out an agreement. He said private meetings with 70 of the plaintiffs made the most impact.

"I'd like to say that the church would have been reformed without these cases, but I don't know that's true," he said. "These cases have forever reformed the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It will never be the same."

The deal settles all 508 cases that remained against the archdiocese, which also paid $60 million in December to settle 45 cases that weren't covered by sexual abuse insurance.

The archdiocese will pay $250 million, insurance carriers will pay a combined $227 million and several religious orders will chip in $60 million. The remaining $123 million will come from litigation with religious orders that chose not to participate in the deal, with the archdiocese guaranteeing resolution of those 80 to 100 cases within five years, Hennigan said. The archdiocese is released from liability in those claims, said Tod Tamberg, church spokesman.

The settlements push the total amount paid out by the U.S. church since 1950 to more than $2 billion, with about a quarter of that coming from the Los Angeles archdiocese.
...more like a third, actually.

Full Mahony statement:
After much prayer, time, and effort by all of the parties involved, I am able to announce to you today that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has reached an agreement in principle with attorneys representing clergy sexual abuse victims in the 508 civil cases that remain filed against us. While there is still work to be done to finalize the formal agreement, I believe that this agreement in principle represents a significant step toward final resolution of all of the sexual abuse claims filed against the Archdiocese these past few years.

The funding for the global settlement will be shared by the Archdiocese, Insurance Companies, various Religious Orders, and other named parties. I am grateful to the several Religious Orders which have stepped forward to take financial responsibility for cases in which their priests or brothers were accused. However, some Religious Orders and other defendants have declined to participate in the global settlement, and therefore, will be excluded from it.

At this time, I again offer my personal apology to every victim who has suffered sexual abuse by a priest, religious, deacon or layperson in this Archdiocese. It is the shared hope of everyone in our Local Church that these victims, many of whom suffered in silence for decades, may find a measure of healing and some sense of closure with today’s announcement. Although financial compensation in itself is inadequate to make up for the harm done to the victims and their families, still this compensation does provide a meaningful outreach to assist the victims to rebuild their lives and to move forward.

Though the achievement of a global financial settlement is important, so too is the tremendous dedication of our parish leaders and parishioners who continue efforts to prevent sexual abuse and the potential for abuse through our abuse prevention training programs, screening procedures for all priests, employees and volunteers, and our age-appropriate safe environment programs for our children in our parishes and schools.

As I mentioned at the time of our settlement of 45 sexual misconduct cases last November, these settlements will have very serious and painful consequences for the Archdiocese. This is not the fault, nor responsibility of the victims. Rather, we as an Archdiocese will be required to reevaluate all of our ministries and services since we will not be able to offer them at the same levels as in the past. We will also be required to sell non-essential properties in order to fund our portion of the settlements. However, I want to reassure you that no parish properties or parish schools will be affected as a result of these settlements.

Let us continue to pray, through the special intercession of Our Lady of the Angels, for healing for all victims of sexual abuse as well as for the future of our Local Church.

AP/Nick Ut