L.A. Church will pay at least $660M
LOS ANGELES – Steven Sanchez says he has spent the past several months steeling himself to explain to a jury of 12 strangers the worst moments of his life: his sexual abuse by a priest.Now it appears he won’t have to.The Associated Press learned Saturday that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles will settle its clergy abuse cases for at least $600 million, by far the largest payout in the church’s sexual abuse scandal. The news came two days before jury selection was to begin in the first of more than 500 clergy abuse cases.Sanchez, one of the plaintiffs set to go to trial Monday, had been expected to testify in a case involving the late Rev. Clinton Hagenbach. He had to repeat his story of abuse in recent months for depositions with his attorneys and archdiocese attorneys.”We’re 48 hours away from starting the trial and I’ve been spending a lot of time getting emotionally prepared to take them on, but I’m glad,” the 47-year-old financial adviser said. “It’s been a long five years.”Not quite officialAttorneys for the archdiocese and the plaintiffs are expected to announce the deal Monday, according to two people with knowledge of the agreement. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the settlement had not been made public.The archdiocese and its insurers will pay between $600 million and $650 million to about 500 plaintiffs – an average of $1.2 million to $1.3 million per person. The settlement also calls for the release of confidential priest personnel files after review by a judge assigned to oversee the litigation, the sources said.It wasn’t immediately clear how the payout would be split among the insurers, the archdiocese and several Roman Catholic religious orders. A judge must sign off on the agreement, and final details were being ironed out.Lead plaintiffs’ attorney Ray Boucher confirmed the sides were working on a deal but he would not discuss specifics. He said negotiations would continue through the weekend and said there were still many unresolved aspects.Tod Tamberg, archdiocese spokesman, declined to comment on any settlement details.”The archdiocese will be in court Monday morning,” he said.The settlement would be the largest ever by a Roman Catholic archdiocese since the clergy sexual abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002.Other big payoutsAmong the largest total payouts was $100 million in 2004 by the Diocese of Orange, Calif., to settle 90 claims. The Archdiocese of Boston agreed in 2003 to pay $84 million for 552 cases, roughly the same figure the Diocese of Covington, Ky., agreed last year to pay to settle about 360 claims. Facing a flood of abuse claims, five dioceses – Tucson, Ariz.; Spokane, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; Davenport, Iowa, and San Diego – sought bankruptcy protection.Last month, the Archdiocese of Portland agreed to pay about $52 million to 175 people, while setting aside another $20 million for anyone who comes forward in the future.The Diocese of Spokane, Wash., also recently emerged from bankruptcy protection after agreeing to pay $48 million to settle about 150 claims.The Los Angeles archdiocese, its insurers and various Roman Catholic orders have paid more than $114 million to settle 86 claims so far.The largest of those came in December, when the archdiocese reached a $60 million settlement with 45 people whose claims dated from before the mid-1950s and after 1987 – periods when it had little or no sexual abuse insurance. Several religious orders in California also have reached multimillion-dollar settlements in recent months, including the Carmelites, the Franciscans and the Jesuits.However, more than 500 other lawsuits against the archdiocese had remained unresolved despite years of legal wrangling. Most of the outstanding lawsuits were generated by a 2002 state law that revoked for one year the statute of limitations for reporting sexual abuse.Cardinal Roger Mahony recently told parishioners in an open letter that the archdiocese was selling its high-rise administrative building and was considering the sale of about 50 other nonessential church properties to raise funds for a settlement.A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge overseeing the cases recently ruled that Mahony could be called to testify in the second trial on schedule, and attorneys for plaintiffs wanted to call him in many more.The same judge also cleared the way for four people to seek punitive damages – something that could have opened the church to tens of millions of dollars in payouts if the ruling had been expanded to other cases.