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July 16, 2007
Column #1,351
Los Angeles' $660 Million Settlement - A Beginning
by Mike McManus

The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to an historic $660 million settlement for 508 victims of clergy sexual abuse this week. That is six times larger than any other diocese. The question is, why didn't the agreement come four years ago, when the amount would have been much less, rather than on the eve of a trial?

A.W.R Sipe, one of the expert witnesses who was to testify on behalf of some of the victims, says that Cardinal Roger Mahony took every legal step he could - including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court - to delay a final resolution of the case.  Why?

"By the documents that are available. it is clear that Cardinal Mahony knew that certain of his priests had been abusers, and he reassigned them to other parishes where they re-abused."  Mahony was scheduled to the first witness in the trial, where "he would have had to expose himself perhaps to criminal accusations."

The Catholic Church in America has already paid $2 billion to settle with victims of priestly abuse, including $114 million in Los Angeles. More than 5,000 priests have been credibly accused by 12,000 victims.

However, ten years from now, this may be seen as only the first act of a three act play.

The second act will be a flood of additional cases, another 100 cases in Los Angeles and hundreds more in San Diego and other California cities for an important reason.

The California Legislature passed a law waiving the statute of limitations which made it impossible for most victims to sue for damages. A child who was molested at age 12 is so shattered by the experience, that not until about age 40 can he/she realize that the source of their anguish and emotional turmoil was heinous sex forced upon them by a person they had been trained to respect, a priest.

However, the statute of limitations made it impossible to sue if the suit is not filed by age 21.  The Legislature gave victims a one-year window to file suits, regardless of their age.

Delaware recently became the second state to modify the statute of limitations. Pennsylvania and other states are considering similar actions. One who testified in Delaware for this change was Father Thomas Doyle, a priest with five Master's degrees and a doctorate who once served in the Vatican's Embassy in Washington.

He told legislators:  "Legislative change is essential to hold churches accountable because without the external pressure derived from the realization that the protection of sexual abuses will not be tolerated, this scourge will continue and thousands more children will be violated and grow into severely damaged adults."

I predict many states will follow California and Delaware's example, which means that thousands of additional victims of clergy abuse will finally find redress. Initially, these people went to the diocesan leaders for help but were "totally frustrated in their attempts to receive justice and support," says Doyle. "Their entreaties were nearly always met with disbelief, denial, empty promises or intimidation to remain silent."

That's why so many LA victims wept when they heard they would be compensated.
Cardinal Mahony apologized for "this horrible sin and crime," and said he hoped the settlement would bring a "final resolution."

That is not likely. The long drawn-out legal battle has soured many Catholics on Mahony's leadership. As Father Doyle put it, "He should have apologized for failing to notify law enforcement when he knew priests were raping and abusing boys and girls and for putting the victims and their families through four years of hell, allowing his attorneys to slander and devalue victims, their supporters, attorneys and their witnesses."

More important, LA's District Attorney Steve Cooley is threatening to bring criminal charges against Mahony's "moral failure." A key provision of the settlement is that the church must turn over confidential files on how the Archdiocese handled the issue, and a judge will decide which to release. They could provide evidence that Mahony or other top officials participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Mahony left 16 priests in ministry for up to 13 years after parishioners raised concerns about their inappropriate behavior with children. Three priests molested victims after treatment. A stunning 75 percent of LA's parishes had a priest who was a predator. Yet the Cardinal
hired a public relations firm that once defended Enron and tobacco companies, to fight against the state's lifting of the statute of limitations.

By paying victims three-quarters of a billion dollars, and apologizing, Cardinal may have dodged a criminal charge. But perhaps not.
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