Menu

Catholic Church Settles Los Angeles Sex Abuse Cases for $660 Million

The nation's largest Catholic archdiocese has settled its abuse cases for $660 million, by far the largest payout in the church's sexual abuse scandal, The Associated Press has learned.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the plaintiffs reached the deal Saturday, said Ray Boucher, the lead plaintiff's attorney. The archdiocese and the plaintiffs will release a statement Sunday morning and hold a news conference Monday, he said.

An anonymous source with knowledge of the deal placed its value at $660 million, by far the largest payout in the church's sexual abuse scandal. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because the settlement had not been officially announced.

The amount, which would average a little more than $1.3 million per plaintiff, exceeded earlier reports that the settlement would be between $600 million and $650 million.

Some Roman Catholic orders — the Servites, Claretians and Oblates — will be carved out of the agreement because they refused to participate, the source said. The settlement also calls for the release of confidential priest personnel files after review by a judge assigned to oversee the litigation, Boucher said.

The settlements push the total amount paid out by the U.S. church since 1950 to more than $2 billion, with about a quarter of that coming from the Los Angeles archdiocese.

It wasn't immediately clear how the payout would be split among the insurers, the archdiocese and several Roman Catholic religious orders. A judge must sign off on the agreement.

The release of the priest documents was important to the agreement, Boucher said, because it could reveal whether archdiocesan leaders were involved in covering up for abusive priests.

"Transparency is a critical part of this and of all resolutions," he said.

Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the archdiocese, did not immediately return a call seeking comment late Saturday. Previously, he said the church would be in court on Monday.

Plaintiff Steven Sanchez, who was expected to testify in the first trial, said he was simultaneously relieved and disappointed. He sued the archdiocese claiming abuse by the late Rev. Clinton Hagenbach, who died in 1987.

"I was really emotionally ready to take on the archdiocese in court in less than 48 hours, but I'm glad all victims are going to be compensated," he said. "I hope all victims will find some type of healing in this process."

The settlement is the largest ever by a Roman Catholic diocese since the clergy sexual abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002. The largest payout so far has been by the Diocese of Orange, Calif., in 2004, for $100 million.

Facing a flood of abuse claims, five dioceses — Tucson, Ariz.; Spokane, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; Davenport, Iowa, and San Diego — sought bankruptcy protection.

The Los Angeles archdiocese, its insurers and various Roman Catholic orders have paid more than $114 million to settle 86 claims so far. The largest of those came in December, when the archdiocese reached a $60 million settlement with 45 people whose claims dated from before the mid-1950s and after 1987 — periods when it had little or no sexual abuse insurance.

Several religious orders in California have also reached multimillion-dollar settlements in recent months, including the Carmelites, the Franciscans and the Jesuits.

However, more than 500 other lawsuits against the archdiocese had remained unresolved despite years of legal wrangling. Most of the outstanding lawsuits were generated by a 2002 state law that revoked for one year the statute of limitations for reporting sexual abuse.

Cardinal Roger Mahony recently told parishioners in an open letter that the archdiocese was selling its high-rise administrative building and considering the sale of about 50 other nonessential church properties to raise funds for a settlement.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge overseeing the cases recently ruled that Mahony could be called to testify in the second trial on schedule, and attorneys for plaintiffs wanted to call him in many more.

The same judge also cleared the way for four people to seek punitive damages — something that could have opened the church to tens of millions of dollars in payouts if the ruling had been expanded to other cases.