SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The Archdiocese of Los Angeles said on Sunday it would pay people who were sexually abused by priests as children a record $660 million, although some victims regretted it meant church leaders would not face questioning in court.
Facing trial on Monday over abuse allegations dating as far back as the 1940s, the Archdiocese agreed to pay 508 victims the largest-ever group settlement.
The deal was the latest chapter in a clergy abuse scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, damaging its moral standing and forcing five U.S. diocese to seek bankruptcy protection.
“I have a mixed reaction,” said Steve Sanchez, 47, one of 12 victims who had been scheduled to go to trial.
“There’s a group of victims who have been fighting this publicly and ready to take on the church publicly, probably a handful...,” he said. “At the same time there is a large group of victims who did not want to go through with the process, being in the public.”
Sanchez, a financial planner, said he and his brother were abused by Los Angeles priest Clinton Hagenbach, who died in 1987.
Nurse Mary Ferrell, 59, who was abused as a girl starting in the late 1950s, also spoke of mixed emotions.
“I appreciate the size of it because I think it shows the culpability and guilt of the Catholic Church,” she said. “It will change my life in that my life will become easier financially but I don’t think that it is going to cure all the pain and suffering.”
Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the Los Angeles archdiocese, said Cardinal Roger Mahony would be in court on Monday as attorneys seek the judges’ approval of the settlement.
Individual victims will receive between $100,000 and $4 million each, said plaintiff attorney Ray Boucher. A lawyer for the church said a third to half of settlements typically goes to plaintiffs’ attorneys as compensation in contingency cases, although the lawyers declined to discuss their fees.
The Roman Catholic 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 abuse but did not do enough to stop it.
Some U.S. diocese have reached financial settlements with victims. The Archdiocese of Boston, where the U.S. scandal erupted in 2002, reached a 2003 deal for 550 people worth $85 million. But victims have had special leverage in California because state legislators authorized an exception to the statute of limitations for old abuse complaints.
The Los Angeles cases have cast a spotlight on Mahony, one of the most prominent U.S. Catholic leaders. Victims allege he did not deal properly with complaints of abuse against priests, and the settlement spares him difficult questions in court.
“Cardinal Mahony and other church leaders would have had to take the witness stand under oath and tell the truth about how much they knew and how little they did with that knowledge to protect the children,” said Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
“What we would have seen is the horrors with the reality that hundreds of children were sexually assaulted, raped, sodomized by priests when the leadership of the church knew.”
J. Michael Hennigan, attorney for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said the church would fund about $250 million of the $660 million settlement. The rest will come from insurers including Chubb, AIG, Allianz and Fireman’s Fund with whom the church holds general liability policies as well as several Catholic religious orders.
Hennigan expects payments by the end of the year, with the church selling nonessential real estate assets, including the Los Angeles Archdiocese headquarters, to raise the funds.
If the Archdiocese meets that schedule, the payments will come ahead of a 2008 trip by Pope Benedict to the United States announced on Sunday.