July 15, 2007 / 4:50 AM / 11 years ago

Los Angeles Catholic Church in record abuse deal

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles has agreed to pay $660 million to 500 victims of sexual abuse dating back as far as the 1940s in the largest compensation deal of its kind, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said on Saturday.

Barbara Klump (L) of St. Louis, Missouri holds a photograph of her son, Christopher, who committed suicide on March 2, 2003 as she speaks with David Clohessy, co-founder and spokesperson for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) at a demonstration in St. Louis, Missouri, June 19, 2003. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles has agreed to pay $660 million to 500 victims of sexual abuse dating back as far as the 1940s in the largest compensation deal of its kind, the plaintiffs' lawyers said on Saturday. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

The settlement, which means victims will receive more than $1 million each, is the largest from the Catholic Church in recent years following many cases in which victims sought financial compensation for suffering abuse from priests.

Ray Boucher, lead plaintiff attorney in the case, said he would issue a joint announcement with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on Sunday of the settlement.

The case was scheduled to go to trial on Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, focusing on 12 plaintiffs who accused former priest Clinton Hagenbach of molesting them. Hagenbach died two decades ago.

Had the case gone to trial, lawyers had sought to put Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, in the uncomfortable position of testifying about the Church’s response to abuses dating from the 1940s to the 1990s.

Because the criminal statute of limitations has expired, victims in California and elsewhere have brought lawsuits against the Church over the issue.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles Diocese, speaking a few hours before lawyers for the victims announced the deal, would only say that church officials planned to be in court on Monday morning.

The judge hearing the case would have to approve the settlement, which a party of the case who did not want to be named put at $660 million.

LARGEST GROUP SETTLEMENT

A lawyer for the Church did not return calls to his office and home.

David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the deal was by far the largest group settlement with the Catholic Church, although a handful of plaintiffs have received greater amounts on an individual basis than each is to receive from this settlement.

“It is never about the money,” Clohessy said in an interview. “Victims want healing, prevention, closing, accountability.”

The diocese is expected to sell property to raise the settlement funds.

The Los Angeles Times newspaper has estimated that the Los Angeles Archdiocese has real estate holdings worth more than $4 billion. Several U.S. Catholic diocese with less substantial holdings have filed for bankruptcy protection in wake of the abuse scandal.

“Though it has always been the position of the Archdiocese that the insurance companies must honor their responsibility to fund a major share of future settlements, the Archdiocese must also be prepared to fund its share of these coming settlements,” Mahony said in a May statement.

“This will require the Archdiocese to begin to dispose of nonessential real estate properties in order to raise funds for coming settlements, and to reevaluate some of the services and ministries it provides to parishes,” he said.

The Archdiocese also settled 46 cases in December for $60 million.

Boucher said settlement negotiations nearly collapsed on Friday, but then continued until a deal was reached on Saturday. He said a few religious orders named in the case declined to participate in the settlement.

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