LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As plaintiffs sobbed but Cardinal Roger Mahony sat silently in court, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and victims of clergy sex abuse on Monday finalized their record $660 million settlement.
Although Mahony publicly apologized after Mass on Sunday to the 508 plaintiffs, several victims voiced frustration that the leader of the largest U.S. Roman Catholic diocese will not have to testify in court.
“For $660 million, he bought himself out of testifying in our case,” said Steve Sanchez, 47.
The settlement reached Saturday after 4 1/2 years of negotiations came before the first trial was due to begin on Monday. Victims’ attorneys would have called Mahony to testify about the church hierarchy’s protection of abusive priests.
“If he were sorry, there wouldn’t be convicted and admitted pedophile priests still on his payroll today,” said Lee Bashforth, 37, molested by a priest when he was 7 years old.
The church, in which priests take a vow of celibacy, has faced abuse allegations worldwide over the past decade. Victims have alleged that church leaders often knew of the abuse but did not do enough to stop it.
The Los Angeles settlement dwarfs other landmark payouts. The Archdiocese of Boston, where the U.S. scandal erupted in 2002, reached a 2003 deal for 550 people worth $85 million.
J. Michael Hennigan, attorney for the archdiocese, stood up and faced the victims in court and said: “It is our deep regret that this took so long.”
The victims scoffed at his remark, while Mahony, dressed in a plain black coat and white collar and wearing a crucifix pendant around his neck, sat silently next to him.
Mahony, who has led the archdiocese since 1985, later released a statement saying he will continue to meet privately with victims of abuse.
“I am aware that this day in particular is a day for the victims to speak,” Mahony said, adding that he will “spend the remainder of today in prayer for victims.”
‘THE RIGHT RESULT’
Superior Court Judge Haley J. Fromholz called the settlement “the right result” because the complexity of the cases would have merited many appeals.
The settlement funds will come from the archdiocese selling real estate assets, including the archdiocese’s headquarters, insurers and various Catholic religious orders.
In addition to making payments by December 1, the archdiocese must also release internal documents about the accused priests, including transfer, complaint and psychiatric records that could result in criminal prosecutions of clergy, main plaintiff attorney Raymond Boucher said.
“These documents are far more important to the victims than any amount of money being paid out,” said Boucher.
At least five priests have been convicted of child molestation charges brought by the Los Angeles County District Attorney. A spokeswoman for the attorney’s office said criminal investigations continue into other allegations of abuse.
The lawsuit that was to be heard Monday involved a priest accused of molesting 18 boys but who died in 1987.
Erin Brady, 48, abused from eight to 11 years of age, said she felt like she did not have justice.
“Money doesn’t make the pain go away,” she said. “The man who molested me is still in the ministry.”