The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles will settle its clergy abuse cases for at least $600 million, by far the largest payout in the church’s sexual abuse scandal, the Associated Press learned Saturday.
Attorneys for the archdiocese and the plaintiffs are expected to announce the deal Monday, the day the first of more than 500 clergy abuse cases was scheduled for jury selection, according to two people with knowledge of the agreement. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the settlement had not been made public.
The archdiocese and its insurers will pay between $600 million and $650 million to about 500 plaintiffs — an average of $1.2 million to $1.3 million per person. The settlement also calls for the release of confidential priest personnel files after review by a judge assigned to oversee the litigation, the sources said.
The settlements would 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, and final details were being ironed out.
Lead plaintiffs’ attorney Ray Boucher confirmed the sides were working on a deal but would not discuss specifics. He said that negotiations would continue through the weekend and that there were still many unresolved aspects.
Tod Tamberg, archdiocese spokesman, declined to comment on any settlement details.
“The archdiocese will be in court Monday morning,” he said.
Steven Sanchez, 47, was one of the plaintiffs set to go to trial Monday. He was expected to testify in the trial involving the late Rev. Clinton Hagenbach.
Sanchez, a financial adviser, said the past few months have been especially difficult because he had to repeat his story of abuse for depositions with his attorneys and archdiocese attorneys in preparation for trial.
“We’re 48 hours away from starting the trial, and I’ve been spending a lot of time getting emotionally prepared to take them on, but I’m glad,” he said. “It’s been a long five years.”
A spokeswoman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said at a news conference outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Saturday that the group had not been apprised of any settlement, and that no such deal would stop anyone’s suffering.
“No matter what happens, no resolution, guilty verdict or settlement magically takes away the pain of having been raped or molested by Catholic priests in this archdiocese,” said Mary Grant, the group’s regional director.
The settlement would be the largest ever by a Roman Catholic archdiocese 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.
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