California diocese settles clergy sexual abuse cases


Sources say payout will be largest in scandal's history

The Diocese of Orange in Southern California will pay 87 victims of clergy sexual abuse about $100 million, the largest payout so far in the Catholic Church's abuse scandal, multiple sources told CNN.

Details are subject to a gag order for at least seven days. A settlement of $100 million would substantially eclipse the $85 million settlement reached between the Archdiocese of Boston and abuse victims there last year.

The settlement was announced Thursday night outside a Los Angeles courtroom, where some abuse victims looked on in tears as Bishop Tod Brown apologized on behalf of the church.

"I intend to write a letter to each victim personally seeking forgiveness and reconciliation," Brown said.

"And let me once again extend on behalf of the Diocese of Orange, and myself, a sincere apology and request heartfelt hope for reconciliation and healing."

Brown said the settlement was "both fair and compassionate" and would allow the church to compensate victims "in a way that allows our church to continue its ministry of service to the entire community."

According to the statement announcing the settlement, exact terms are still being worked out, including the amount to be paid out to each victim.

After Brown spoke, some of the victims -- people who were molested by 43 Catholic priests, nuns, teachers, even a choir director -- hugged and thanked the bishop for acknowledging their pain.

"For once, them coming in tonight and settling these cases and apologizing. ... I mean, I couldn't stop crying," said David Guerrero, a victim.

"I think it reflects the point that all these people ever wanted was to be believed, and tonight what you have is a demonstration, a concrete demonstration by him [Brown], that it did happen, and he's sorry," said victims' attorney John Manly.

Another victim, Joelle Casteix, said the money is secondary. She said the court documents detailing the abuse that will be released are most important aspect of the settlement.

"People tend to think that perhaps things aren't as bad as it's portrayed in the press," she said.

"But the truth is, it's a hundred times worse than anyone ever imagined. And when those documents get out it will be a very great day for survivors and a very interesting day for the Catholic Church."

"No amount of money will replace their lost childhood and teenage years," said Ray Boucher, lead attorney for the victims.

"But this settlement will give them all the ability and opportunity to conclude their claims and help them to move forward with their lives."

With a settlement reached for victims in suburban Orange County, the focus of the scandal in Southern California is expected to shift to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

The archdiocese faces nearly 500 claims of abuse involving more than 200 priests and church officials.

"Los Angeles has a far bigger problem that Boston ever had," said Richard Sipe, a clergy abuse expert and former priest.

"The breadth and depth of the sexual activity and corruption in L.A. is unequaled by any other archdiocese in this country."

The Los Angeles Archdiocese is also the subject of a grand jury investigation. District Attorney Steve Cooley has vowed to stop at nothing to find out whether a conspiracy existed to hide abusive priests.

adam on Saturday 04 December 2004 - 00:00:08