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L.A. Church to Settle Abuse Cases in Record Deal

Hundreds of people who claim they were abused by clergy affiliated with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles can expect to be paid more than $1 million each in a $660 million settlement of their lawsuits. The deal, by far the largest settlement in the church's sexual abuse scandal, was reached Saturday, said Ray Boucher, the lead plaintiff's attorney.

Roman Catholics attending Mass at the city's cathedral Sunday expressed sympathy for victims and disappointment in the church. Some even said the scandal has made them question some of the church's basic tenets.

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.


"I am disappointed," Viscarra said. "And it's making me reevaluate my views of whether people in the ministry should be married. People do have needs."

The deal also calls for the release of confidential priest personnel files after review by a judge assigned to oversee the litigation, Boucher said. He said the documents could show whether archdiocesan leaders were involved in covering up for abusive priests.

Chris Parra, 40, who attends Mass every Sunday, said she couldn't help thinking about the settlement when she shook Cardinal Roger Mahony's hand on the way out of the cathedral.

"Even when I was standing there, shaking his hand, I was thinking about how he's finally going to release the priests' personnel records and I wondered to myself why didn't he do that sooner," she said, holding her baby Tomas.

Mahony, who presided over Mass, didn't directly address the settlement, but the service included a prayer for victims of clergy abuse. Mahony and all parties are expected before a Los Angeles Superior Court judge Monday to enter the settlement into the record, attorneys said.


Archdiocese attorney Michael Hennigan said he was glad an agreement had finally been reached.

"I think for those of us who have been involved in this for more than five years, it's a huge relief," he said. "But it's a disappointment too that we didn't get it done much earlier than this."

The settlements push the total amount paid out by the U.S. church since 1950 to more than $2 billion, with about a quarter of that coming from the Los Angeles archdiocese. A judge must sign off on the agreement.

Plaintiff Steven Sanchez, who was expected to testify in the first trial, said he was simultaneously relieved and disappointed. He sued the archdiocese claiming abuse by the late Rev. Clinton Hagenbach, who died in 1987.

"I was really emotionally ready to take on the archdiocese in court in less than 48 hours, but I'm glad all victims are going to be compensated," he said. "I hope all victims will find some type of healing in this process."

The Los Angeles archdiocese, its insurers and various Roman Catholic orders have paid more than $114 million to settle 86 claims so far.

Several religious orders in California have also 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.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.

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