Payout Is Bittersweet for Victims of Abuse
By Laurie Goodstein
New York Times
July 17, 2007
As abuse victims sobbed in the courtroom, a judge approved a $660 million settlement yesterday between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and 508 people who had filed suit over sexual abuse by clergy members.
"Settling the cases was the right thing to do," said Judge Haley J. Fromholz of Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The settlement in the nation's largest Roman Catholic diocese is considered a landmark because the legal battle endured for more than four years, and because the sum is more than six times larger than any previous deal struck by a diocese.
At a news conference outside the courthouse yesterday, sexual abuse victims stepped to the microphone one by one, many carrying photographs of themselves as children, and shared their feelings of betrayal by the church and in particular, the archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, a fixture in Los Angeles since 1985.
"I don't want Mahony going around saying everything is all right, because it's not," said Rita Milla, 45, a medical assistant who lives in Carson. "My church acted like it didn't know what was happening."
Carlos Perez-Carillo, 41, a supervisor in the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services, said, "We walked around spiritless."
Mr. Perez-Carillo added, "We were told we lied," and said, "We walked in darkness for many, many years."
Some plaintiffs say they were raped, some molested, others shown pornography. Each plaintiff will receive a sum to be set based on the duration and nature of the violations, minus their legal fees, of 30 percent to 40 percent.
"It's important to know," Mr. Perez-Carillo said, "that survivors here will be able to go out and get the therapy they need."
The negotiations ended late Saturday, two days before the first of 20 cases against the archdiocese, involving 172 accusers, was scheduled to go to trial, said Raymond P. Boucher, the lead plaintiffs' lawyer.
If not for the lawsuits and the civil proceedings, he said, the names of about 150 of those accused of abuse would never have become public.
In the courtroom, Mr. Boucher, his voice choking, asked for a moment of silence for victims who had died during the years of negotiations. He said in an interview later that he knew of nine who had committed suicide in the last five years, and several others who had died of drug overdoses.
In comments that are proving controversial, Mr. Boucher has praised Cardinal Mahony for bringing the settlement to fruition after meeting personally with 60 abuse victims.
"He gave them a chance to yell and scream and vent and question," Mr. Boucher explained in an interview. "There were intensely emotional, personal meetings, and I believe it changed the perspective of some of the clients that met with him, and I'm certain that it changed him."
In the last six months, he said, the cardinal himself pressed for a conclusion. "When I stopped by the defense counsel's office," Mr. Boucher said, "the cardinal would be down the hallway on the phone with the religious orders trying to get them to participate" in the settlement.
But in interviews, other plaintiffs' lawyers blamed Cardinal Mahony for dragging out negotiations by trying to foist responsibility on the insurance companies. They said that the insurers, meanwhile, blamed the archdiocese for its negligence and many of them refused for years to accept liability.
"This settlement could have taken place four years ago, and did not," said Venus Soltan, a lawyer who handled 50 of the cases. "This case has always been about the victims and the church. It is not about insurance coverage."
Ms. Soltan said of the cardinal, "If he wanted to settle these cases he had it within his ability to do that."
Cardinal Mahony said Sunday that the archdiocese would pay $250 million toward the settlement, insurers would pay $227 million, religious orders would pay $60 million and the remainder, $123 million, would come from other sources, like religious orders not yet included in the settlement. The plaintiffs are to receive their payments by Dec. 1.
The archdiocese, its insurers and several religious orders, including the Carmelites, the Franciscans and the Jesuits, have already paid a total of $114 million in several separate agreements to settle 86 claims.
The cardinal, who sat silently through the hearing, apologized Sunday to the victims, saying of the abuse, "It should not have happened and should not ever happen again."
After the hearing, many victims said the apology came far too late. Esther Miller, 48, who said she had been suicidal and was not working because of post-traumatic stress, said: "I was a committed Catholic. I lost my church."
Michael Parrish contributed reporting from Los Angeles.
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