Tue, Jul 17, 2007 - Page 7 News List

LA judge to review multimillion dollar abuse settlement

AFP , LOS ANGELES

Attorneys for the Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles and hundreds of people sexually abused by priests were to appear in court on Monday to file a US$660 million settlement, the biggest in US history.

Lawyers for the Los Angeles archdiocese and 508 victims of abuse dating back to the 1940s thrashed out the massive deal on the eve of a potentially explosive court case. However, it must be approved by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.

The deal is the largest settlement by any Roman Catholic archdiocese to sex abuse victims in the US.

Archdiocese head Cardinal Roger Mahony -- who has been accused by angry victims of attempting to cover up pedophilia cases during his tenure -- told a press conference on Sunday that the cases should never have happened.

"This long journey has now come to an end, and a new chapter of that journey is beginning," Mahony said.

"Once again I apologize to anyone who has been offended, who's been abused by priests, by deacons, by religious men and women or by lay people ... It should not have happened and should not ever happen again."

Mahony said he was haunted by the fact that victims would never be able to reclaim their innocence.

"It is the one part of the settlement process I find so frustrating, because the one thing I wish I could give the victims, I cannot," he said.

Ray Boucher, the lead attorney for the victims, said the settlement was "long overdue."

"Some of the victims have waited more than five decades for a chance at reconciliation and resolution," Boucher said. "This is a down payment on that debt long overdue."

Abuse cases across the country have cost Roman Catholic churches around US$2.1 billion to date. Several priests have been convicted and at least four dioceses have gone bankrupt paying civil penalties.

The Los Angeles church is expected to sell off assets from its estimated US$4 billion in real estate holdings to pay for the settlement.

The church had already settled 46 cases in December for $US60 million.

John Manly, a lawyer who represented around 50 victims who now stand to receive payouts of US$1.2 million to US$1.3 million each, said the archdiocese had settled to avoid the embarrassment of a court case.

Manly said the release of internal documents as part of the settlement would raise questions over the leadership of Mahony.

"I think when people see the documents and see what he knew and what he did they will be stunned," Manly said.

Victims accuse Mahony of allegedly covering up evidence of child molestation by transferring priests to other churches and for trying to keep the abuse reports secret.

"Cardinal Mahony paying out money is great, but where is the accountability from the hierarchy of the church?" Manly said. "They will continue their lives as normal; the victims still have to deal with a lifetime of problems."

Manly questioned why Mahony had not been held to account.

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