LOS ANGELES – A judge on Monday approved a $660 million settlement between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and more than 500 alleged victims of clergy abuse, the largest payout yet in the countrywide sex abuse scandal.
Some of the plaintiffs sobbed as the deal was formally approved and a moment of silence was held for others who had died during the years of negotiations.
"This is the right result," said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Haley Fromholz. "Settling the cases was the right thing to do, and it was done by dint of a number of extremely talented and dedicated people putting in an awful lot of time."
The deal came after more than five years of negotiations and is by far the largest payout by any diocese since the clergy abuse scandal emerged in Boston in 2002. The amount averages a little more than $1.3 million per plaintiff, although individual payouts will vary according to the severity and duration of the abuse alleged.
Ray Bouchet, lead attorney for alleged victims, asked his clients to stand during the hearing and thanked them for their resolve and their courage.
"I know it's hard for most of the victims whose scars are very deep ... and I know many will never forgive the cardinal," he said. "But he took steps that I think that only he could take and if left to the lawyers and others in the church he would not have settled this case."
Cardinal Roger Mahony, the head of the archdiocese, apologized on Sunday after the settlement was announced.
Outside court, though, some plaintiffs were not ready to accept his words.
Lee Bashforth held up a photo of himself as a young boy with the priest he says abused him. He called Mahony's apology "disingenuous" and said the settlement only saved the church from having to face questions before a jury.
Mahony has said the settlement would not have an impact on the archdiocese's core ministry, but that the church would have to sell buildings, use some of its invested funds, and borrow money.
The settlement also calls for the release of priests' confidential personnel files after review by a judge.
"I think for those of us who have been involved in this for more than five years, it's a huge relief," said Michael Hennigan, archdiocese attorney. "But it's a disappointment, too, that we didn't get it done much earlier than this."
The deal settles all 508 cases that remained against the archdiocese, which also paid $60 million in December to settle 45 cases that were not covered by sexual abuse insurance.
The archdiocese will pay $250 million, insurance carriers will pay a combined $227 million and several religious orders will chip in $60 million. The remaining $123 million will come from litigation with religious orders that chose not to participate in the deal, with the archdiocese guaranteeing resolution of those 80 to 100 cases within five years, Hennigan said. The archdiocese is released from liability in those claims, said Tod Tamberg, church spokesman.
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.
Previously, the Los Angeles archdiocese, its insurers and various Roman Catholic orders had paid more than $114 million to settle 86 claims. Several religious orders in California have also reached multimillion-dollar settlements in recent months, including the Carmelites, the Franciscans and the Jesuits.