Archive for Monday, July 16, 2007

L.A. cardinal apologizes to church abuse plaintiffs

July 16, 2007

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— For more than a year, Cardinal Roger Mahony met privately with dozens of people who filed clergy-abuse lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

After each meeting, he filled out a 3-by-5 card listing the person's name and story and stacked it neatly on the altar in a private chapel. He prayed for them, and for a resolution to their conflict with the church.

On Sunday, the leader of the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese announced a big step toward that resolution: a $660 million payout to 508 alleged clergy abuse victims. It is by far the largest settlement since the sex abuse scandal first emerged in 2002 in Boston.

"We gather today because this long journey has now come to an end and a new chapter of that journey is beginning," Mahony said at a news conference.

But Mary Grant, spokeswoman for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the settlement does not end the suffering for the 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."

Mahony and all parties are expected today before a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to enter the settlement into the court record. The settlement also calls for the release of priests' confidential personnel files after review by a judge.

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

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

The cardinal said the settlement will not have an effect on the archdiocese's core ministry, but said the church will have to sell buildings, use some of its invested funds and borrow money. He said the archdiocese will not sell any parish properties or parish schools.

"I think for those of us who have been involved in this for more than five years, it's 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 would average 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 re-evaluate my views of whether people in the ministry should be married. People do have needs."

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