Angeles Clergy Abuse Cases Could Reach $60 Million Settlement

October 2, 2006

The largest Roman Catholic archdiocese in the U.S. could sign a $60 million settlement with dozens of alleged victims of clergy abuse within days, several attorneys told The Associated Press.

The settlement being drafted by attorneys for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the alleged victims would give 45 claimants a total of $60 million, said Venus Soltan, a plaintiffs’ attorney. The settlement would encompass alleged victims whose claims are not covered by the church’s insurance policies, she said.

If distributed equally, each alleged victim would get $1.3 million (euro1 million), although how the money would be divided remained unclear.

“We are in the final stages of documentation and the settlement should be coming public within a week,” said Soltan, who represents two of the people who would receive money under the agreement. “It’s a very big deal because it’s the first time Los Angeles has settled any of its cases.”

An attorney for the priests and another plaintiffs’ attorney confirmed those figures for The Associated Press in interviews this week and said a deal is likely within a week.

The 45 cases are a fraction of the more than 500 clergy abuse lawsuits filed against the archdiocese since 2003, when alleged victims were allowed to file lawsuits under a state law that peeled back the statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims for one year.

Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg acknowledged Friday that both sides were working hard on a deal, but said similar negotiations over the uninsured cases fell apart last year.

“Talks are ongoing, we’re trying to settle the uninsured cases, that’s no secret. Last month, people were saying it was going to happen within days,” Tamberg said. “I’ve seen so many stops and starts along the way and I wouldn’t hazard a guess at all.”

The potential deal would be the most significant step to date toward resolving extensive litigation against the archdiocese that has dragged on for years. It would represent the second-largest publicly known clergy abuse payout in California and the fourth-largest in the U.S., according to an AP review of settlements.

“We’re aware that they’ve been working very hard, both the lawyers for the church and the plaintiffs’ lawyers, and they’re very close,” said Donald Steier, an attorney who represents accused priests, including some whose cases would be included in the proposed settlement.

Those familiar with the cases said the settlement would resolve claims by people who say they were abused before the early 1950s and after 1987, when insurers stopped covering molestation.

Attorneys cautioned, however, that several things could cause the fragile agreement to collapse, including a dispute over the release of confidential priest personnel files.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have said in the past that they would not agree to any settlement without securing the public release of those files. Attorneys for the individual priests, however, are likely to fight to keep the records private.

Mary Grant, spokeswoman for the Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests, said she hoped the proposed deal would come through.

“We want victims to be cautious, we don’t want them to get hurt again,” she said. “It’s not settled until it’s signed.”

The news of a possible deal comes as the first round of civil lawsuits are being prepared for trial. The first one goes to court in late November.

Attorneys for the archdiocese and plaintiffs last year selected 44 cases for trial from among the hundreds in hopes that jury verdicts in those cases would provide a better idea of the church’s liability. Some victims’ attorneys have estimated that a settlement encompassing all the cases could surpass $1 billion.

Sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests has cost the U.S. church at least $1.5 billion since 1950. Several American dioceses have reached multimillion-dollar settlements with victims in the last few years, as bishops have tried to resolve the crisis and move on.

The Diocese of Orange, California, agreed to the largest payout to date — $100 million for 90 people — in December 2004.

Three dioceses — Tucson, Arizona; Spokane, Washington; and Portland, Oregon — sought bankruptcy protection from a flood of lawsuits.

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