The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, its former leader, Cardinal Roger Mahony, and an ex-priest have agreed to pay a total of nearly US$10 million to settle four child sex abuse cases brought against them, lawyers for the victims said on Tuesday.
Mahony, who retired in 2011 as head of the largest US archdiocese and is now in Rome taking part in choosing a new pope, was accused of helping a confessed pedophile priest evade law enforcement by sending him out of state to a church-run treatment center, then placing the priest back in the Los Angeles ministry.
The defrocked priest named in all four cases is Michael Baker, who ultimately was convicted in 2007 and sent to prison on 12 criminal counts of felony oral copulation with a minor involving two boys who reached a previous settlement with the church.
The latest agreement came four weeks before civil suits brought by two men, now in their 20s, who said they were molested as 12-year-olds in the late 1990s, were scheduled to go to trial, plaintiff’s attorney Vince Finaldi said.
The two other newly settled cases are less recent. One dates to the late 1970s, before Mahony was archbishop, and the other to 1986, not long after he assumed the post, Finaldi said.
As part of the settlement, approved by a Los Angeles judge earlier this month, none of the parties admitted wrongdoing.
Finaldi said the settlement, together with the recent release of internal church records documenting the role of Mahony and others in covering up child sexual abuse by the clergy, comes “as close to an admission of guilt as you’re going to get from the archdiocese.”
A lawyer for the archdiocese, Michael Hennigan, confirmed a settlement in the amount of US$9.99 million was reached.
He added that the archdiocese “has always taken the position that we were responsible for the conduct of Michael Baker.”
Mahony has “admitted that he made serious mistakes in putting Michael Baker back in the ministry,” Hennigan said, but he denied that archdiocese officials were involved in a coverup.
Clergy were not legally required under California law to report suspected child abuse to authorities until 1997. Prior to that, Hennigan said, the policy of the archdiocese was to urge families of victims to go to law enforcement on their own.
However, Finaldi disputed the notion that Mahony should be absolved of any obligation to alert authorities.
“You have a priest who is confessing that he sexually molested two kids, and you don’t pick up the phone and call police? There’s no reasonable excuse for not doing that,” he said.
Scandals over sex abuse in the US Catholic Church, which erupted in 1992 with a series of molestation cases uncovered in Boston, have cost the church billions of dollars in settlements and driven prominent dioceses into bankruptcy.
The Los Angeles Archdiocese, which serves 4 million Catholics, reached a US$660 million civil settlement in 2007 with more than 500 victims of child molestation, marking the biggest such agreement of its kind in the nation.
Mahony at that time called the abuse “a terrible sin and crime.”
The archdiocese has reached a handful of settlements in other cases since then, but the one announced on Tuesday was by far the biggest, Finaldi added.
In a rare church rebuke of a cardinal, Mahony was censured in late January by his successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez, and stripped of all public and administrative duties, as punishment for his role in the sex abuse scandal.