- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2007

LOS ANGELES — The nation’s largest Catholic archdiocese will settle its clergy sex abuse cases for at least $600 million, by far the largest payout in the church’s sexual-abuse scandal, sources close to the case said yesterday.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the plaintiffs reached the deal yesterday, said Ray Boucher, the lead plaintiff’s attorney. The archdiocese and the plaintiffs will release a statement this morning and hold a press conference tomorrow, he said.

An anonymous source with knowledge of the deal placed its value at $660 million, an average of about $1.3 million per plaintiff. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because the settlement had not been officially announced.

The settlement pushes the total amount paid out by the U.S. church since 1950 to more than $2 billion, with about a quarter of that amount paid by the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the payout would be divided among the insurers, the archdiocese and several Roman Catholic religious orders.

Some Roman Catholic orders — the Servites, Clairites and Oblates — will be left 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, Mr. Boucher said. A judge still must sign off on the agreement.

The release of the priest documents is important to the agreement, he 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 yesterday. Previously, he said the church would be in court tomorrow.

Steven Sanchez, 47, was one of the plaintiffs set to go to trial tomorrow. He was expected to testify in a case involving the late Rev. Clinton Hagenbach.

Mr. 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 lawyers 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.”

The settlement would be the largest ever by a Roman Catholic archdiocese since the clergy sexual-abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002. Among the largest total payouts was $100 million in 2004 by the Diocese of Orange, Calif., to settle 90 claims. 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.

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