LA Archdiocese settles abuse claims for $A75 million

Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony has announced that his archdiocese has settled 45 sexual abuse claims against clergy for a total of $A75 million - but another 550 claims are still pending.

The New York Times reports that the claims were settled for an average payment of about $A1.6 million to each plaintiff which is among the highest in a sexual abuse settlement involving clergy members. In October, the archdiocese settled seven other claims for a total of $10 million.

The archdiocese will pay $40 million of the settlement from its central operations fund with the rest coming from insurance money and the religious orders of the 25 accused clergymen. The money will not be taken from individual parishes, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the head of the archdiocese, told the Times in a telephone interview.

Over 500 sexual abuse lawsuits are still pending against the archdiocese, the country's largest. Payouts in those cases would come mostly from insurance, but the archdiocese may have to sell property or reduce ministry services to make up the difference, Cardinal Mahony said.

"Is it going to hurt? Oh sure, we could have used the money for other pastoral works," he said. "But it's also an acknowledgment and a recognition of our responsibility, that the church failed these people. The church accepts responsibility, and I accept responsibility."

"Many years ago, we really believed that these offenders could be cured and we acted on that information," Cardinal Mahony said. "We found out in the early 1990s that that was not true."

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told the Times that the archdiocese made "a business decision" to avoid the expense of going to trial. She said of the victims, "I don't believe any amount of money can restore their shattered childhoods, the innocence that was destroyed or the emotional scars that haunt them today."

However, the Los Angeles Times says that the 485 remaining molestation lawsuits could cost hundreds of millions more.

But an LA Times analysis found that the archdiocese is the recorded owner of one of the biggest real estate portfolios in Southern California with at least 1,600 properties with an estimated value of about $4 billion, most of which is devoted to religious purposes, such as churches and schools.

The property portfolio also includes oil wells, farm parcels, commercial parking lots, a fashion district building and other commercial property.

If recent settlements are a guide, the archdiocese and its insurers could have to pay $500 million or more to dispense with the rest of the molestation suits. That would be far and away the costliest resolution in the U.S. Catholic Church's marathon run of sex scandals, the LA Times says.

The archdiocese says it expects insurers to pay almost all of the remaining settlements, but the liability companies insist that the church should bear most of the burden.

Archdiocese in Los Angeles Settles Claims of Sex Abuse (New York Times, 2/12/06)
Scandal could prompt church to sell property (Los Angeles Times, 3/12/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Los Angeles Archdiocese
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

Californian bishop faces prosecution over failure to report (CathNews, 29/8/06)
LA Cardinal calls sex abuse scandal a 'purification' (CathNews, 2/4/02)

4 Dec 2006