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LA church looks to close chapter on abuse

$660 million settlement was reached Saturday

(associated press)

LOS ANGELES -- Cardinal Roger Mahony, leader of the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese, apologized yesterday to the hundreds of people who will get a share of a $660 million settlement over allegations of clergy sex abuse.

"There really is no way to go back and give them that innocence that was taken from them. . . . The one thing I wish I could give the victims, I cannot," he said.

"Once again, I apologize to anyone who has been offended, who has been abused. . . . It should not have happened and should not ever happen again."

Mahony said that he has met in the past 14 months with dozens of people alleging clergy abuse and that those meetings helped him understand the importance of resolving the lawsuits.

The settlement will not affect the archdiocese's core ministry, Mahony said, but the church will have to sell buildings, use some of its invested funds, and borrow money. The archdiocese will not sell any parish property, he said.

The deal between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and more than 500 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse, reached late Saturday, is by far the largest payout since the nationwide clergy abuse scandal emerged in 2002 in Boston. The payments will push the total amount paid out by the US church since 1950 to more than $2 billion.

The Los Angeles settlement also calls for the release of priests' confidential personnel files after review by a judge. The parties , including Mahony, are to appear in Los Angeles Superior Court today to ask the judge overseeing the case to sign off on the agreement.

According to Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the archdiocese, the settlement had not required Mahony to make his public apology.

Earlier yesterday, Mahony presided over Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles without directly addressing the settlement. The service did include a prayer for victims of clergy abuse.

"I think for those of us who have been involved in this for more than five years, [the settlement is] 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."

Parishioners reacted with disappointment and relief to the settlement.

Vivian Viscarra, 50, who attends Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels three times a month, said the victims deserve the payout even though it could hurt the church's ability to deliver important services. 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.

"I am disappointed," Viscarra said. "And it's making me reevaluate my views of whether people in the ministry should be married. People do have needs."

Chris Parra, who attends Mass every Sunday, said she couldn't help thinking about the settlement as the cardinal greeted worshipers on the way out of the cathedral.

"Even when I was standing there, shaking his hand, I was thinking about how he's finally going to release the priests' personnel records and I wondered to myself why didn't he do that sooner," she said, holding her baby, Tomas.

Parra said she was upset that her tithing would go toward paying the settlement.

"I still want my children to follow the church's guidelines and foundation because that's how I was raised," she said. "But there's still a lot of healing to be done."

The deal settles all 508 cases that remained against the archdiocese, which also paid $60 million in December to settle 45 cases that weren't covered by sexual abuse insurance.

Under the latest deal, 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 Los Angeles Archdiocese, its insurers, and various Roman Catholic orders have paid more than $114 million to settle 86 claims so far.

Several religious orders in California have also reached multimillion-dollar settlements in recent months, including the Carmelites, the Franciscans, and the Jesuits.

Standing outside the cathedral, Mary Grant, spokeswoman for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the settlement does not end suffering for thousands of victims of clergy abuse. "This is not over," she said. "Church officials would like to think that this settlement means everything is OK. . . . But this is not a magic wand."