- 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.

The largest of those payouts was announced in December, when the archdiocese reached a $60 million settlement with 45 persons 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 also have 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 Cardinal Mahony could be called to testify in the second trial on schedule, and lawyers for the plaintiffs wanted to call him in many more cases.

The same judge also cleared the way for four persons 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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