San Diego Roman Catholic Diocese Settles Lawsuit for $200 Million


The New York Times: September 8, 2007

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 7 — The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego agreed Friday to a settlement that would pay nearly $200 million to 144 people who have said they were sexually abused by clergy members under lax supervision from the church.

If approved by a judge, the settlement would stand as the second-largest payout by a Roman Catholic diocese since claims of sexual abuse by clergy members nationwide came to light in 2002. In July, a judge approved a $660 million settlement, the largest so far, between the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and 508 people.

The amount each victim in San Diego would receive is expected to vary widely and will be determined by a judge. The cases involve acts from 1938 to 1993, with most in the 1960s and ’70s.

“The diocese has always been committed to resolving this litigation that fairly compensates these victims and would still preserve the ongoing ministries and programs of the church,” Bishop Robert H. Brom said in a joint statement by the church and the victims’ lawyers. “We pray that this settlement will bring some closure and healing to the years of suffering experienced by these victims.”

Later, at a news conference, the bishop apologized to victims. “I’m very, very sorry for the suffering we have caused them,” he said, “and I pray they will walk with God for a renewed life.”

Victims of abuse who waited at a courthouse for word of the settlement reacted with tears, anger and a sense of resignation. The church reached the accord under pressure from a federal judge, who appeared poised to dismiss a bankruptcy claim the church filed six months ago on the eve of trial as a way to shield its assets.

“I am mad from the standpoint that we will not be able to move to trial so I would have an opportunity to articulate the horrendous crimes the church has covered up and the priest perpetrated on me,” said Michael Bang, 46, who accused a priest of molesting him from age 8 to 16.

Mr. Bang said he still opposed the settlement “but I agreed in an effort to move forward” after four years of legal wrangling.

Irwin Zalkin, a lawyer for several plaintiffs, said the most important part of the case was having the church agree to release reams of personnel documents that are expected to chronicle the history and pattern of abuse.

The documents will be incorporated into a Web site that will include a video on the case and other material providing “as much information as you can get short of a jury trial,” Mr. Zalkin said.

Paul Livingston, director of the San Diego chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the disclosures would “show lay Catholics that these victims are not about collecting money.”

“They are about truth, justice and the future protection of children,” Mr. Livingston said.

Under the agreement, the San Diego Diocese would pay $77.1 million and its insurance carrier $75.7 million, for a total of $152.8 million covering 111 cases. In addition, the diocese would pay $30.2 million for 22 cases involving members of religious orders, and the Diocese of San Bernardino would pay $15.1 million for 11 cases in its area. The total settlement amounts to $198.1 million.

The Los Angeles Archdiocese has said it will sell large amounts of nonparish property, including its administrative headquarters, to pay for the settlement. The San Diego Diocese, with nearly a million parishioners, has property throughout San Diego County.

Rodrigo Valdivia, the chancellor of the diocese, said in an e-mail message that “there are currently no plans to close any parishes or schools.”

The settlement will be presented to Judge Louise DeCarl Adler of United States Bankruptcy Court, who had issued rulings unfavorable to the church’s case and shown frustration with its accounting methods.

Judge Adler had planned a hearing on whether to dismiss the church’s case because of financial irregularities. She had previously ruled that 42 suits claiming abuse could go forward after being delayed by the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

The San Diego Diocese had proposed paying the victims a total of $95 million as part of its financial reorganization plan. Bishop Brom said the bankruptcy filing was not intended to stall the case but stemmed from “many forces beyond our control.” He did not elaborate.



San Diego Diocese Settles Abuse Claims


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All Things Considered, September 8, 2007 The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego has settled lawsuits with alleged abuse victims for $198 million, twice the amount church officials offered just a few months ago. The settlement resolves decades-old allegations from scores of men and women molested by priests.

AP News Wire: US News

Diocese Settles Abuse Claims for $198M


SAN DIEGO September 8, 2007, 5:09 p.m. ET The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego said Friday it has agreed to pay $198.1 million to settle 144 claims of sexual abuse by clergy, the second-largest payment by a diocese. The agreement caps more than four years of negotiations in state and federal courts.

Earlier this year, the diocese abruptly filed for bankruptcy protection just hours before trial was scheduled to begin on 42 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse. Bankruptcy could shield the diocese's assets, but a judge recently threatened to throw out the bankruptcy case if church officials didn't reach an agreement with the plaintiffs.

The San Diego diocese initially offered about $95 million to settle the claims. The victims were seeking about $200 million.

"The diocese has always been committed to resolving this litigation in a way that fairly compensates these victims of abuse and would still preserve the ongoing ministries and programs of the church," Bishop Robert Brom said in a press release Friday.

"We pray that this settlement will bring some closure and healing to the years of suffering experienced by these victims."

In the largest payment yet in the scandal, the Los Angeles Archdiocese settled 508 cases for $660 million in July, two days before jury selection was scheduled to begin in the first of 15 trials involving 172 abuse claimants there.

The Diocese of Orange agreed in 2004 to settle 90 claims for $100 million after a judge promised to set trial dates and begin the discovery process if settlement talks collapsed. Bishop Tod D. Brown later said he couldn't risk a trial in a state where a jury once awarded $30 million to two people who claimed they were sexually abused by clergy.

The Diocese of San Diego, with nearly 1 million Catholics and holdings throughout San Diego County, is by far the largest and wealthiest of the five U.S. dioceses to have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection under the shadow of civil claims over sexual abuse.

Dioceses in Spokane, Wash., Portland, Ore., and Tucson, Ariz., have already emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The Davenport, Iowa, diocese, which faces claims from more than 150 people, is still in proceedings.

Sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests has cost the U.S. church at least $2.3 billion since 1950. Some of the largest known payouts to victims since the crisis erupted in 2002 include:

— Archdiocese of Los Angeles, 2007, agrees to pay $660 million to about 500 people.

— Diocese of San Diego, 2007, agrees to pay $198 million to 144 people.

— Diocese of Orange, Calif., 2004, $100 million for 90 abuse claims.

— Diocese of Covington, Ky., 2006, up to $84 million for more than 350 people.

— Archdiocese of Boston, 2003, $84 million for 552 claims.

— Diocese of Oakland, Calif., 2005, $56 million to 56 people.

— Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., 2007, agrees to pay about $52 million to 175 victims to emerge from bankruptcy protection; sets aside another $20 million for any future claims.

— Diocese of Spokane, Wash., 2007, agrees to pay $48 million for about 150 claims to emerge from bankruptcy protection.

— Diocese of Sacramento, Calif., 2005, pays $35 million to 33 people.

— Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., 2003, $25.7 million to 243 victims.

— Diocese of Tucson, Ariz., 2005, agrees to fund a settlement trust worth about $22 million for more than 50 victims to emerge from bankruptcy protection.


On the Net:  San Diego Roman Catholic Diocese:



July 15, 2007, Sunday


Late Edition - Final, Section A, Page 1, Column , 1027 words

DISPLAYING ABSTRACT - Lawyers for more than 500 people who say they were abused by Roman Catholic clergy members said last night that they had settled their lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for $660 million.



Los Angeles Catholic Diocese to Settle 570 Sex Abuse Cases

July 12, 2007

"Settlement Would Avoid the First Trial of Local Priest"

The Los Angeles Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church is expected to reach a settlement agreement soon regarding about 570 claims that the Diocese failed to protect children from sexual abuse by Catholic priests. The settlement would head off the first trial against a local priest, Father Clinton Hagenbach, who is alleged to have abused many children over a two-decade period. Jury selection for that case is scheduled for July 17.

Stonewalling by the Church

The top church official in Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, has waged an extensive court battle to deny access to church personnel documents by prosecutors, the public, abuse victims, and their attorneys. The church is widely alleged to have ignored hundreds of instances of abuse by priests nationwide, simply moving the priests to new parishes when complaints about their conduct surfaced.

However, a court ruled in a California case that grand juries investigating crimes and civil lawyers preparing for trial are entitled to see such documents. Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the settlement negotiations have stipulated that any settlement between their clients and the Archdiocese would have to include the release of the relevant church documents to the public.

Hundreds of Abusers

The settlement negotiations in Los Angeles have been complicated, with more than 570 claims of abuse by 221 alleged perpetrators, with more than 60 plaintiffs' attorneys involved. The archdiocese has already agreed to pay more than $110 million to settle the claims of 86 victims, but the potential payout for the rest of the claims is a staggering half-billion dollars.

Church's Insurers Balk at Paying

The Catholic Church in the U.S. has blamed its insurers for not paying the major share of settlements that have already been reached between the church and sex abuse victims. The insurers, in turn, have alleged that church officials have purposely withheld information about the abuse, and that the insurers do not have to pay if the church officials' actions are found to be criminal.

Church Has Billions in Assets

Although the standoff between the Catholic Church and it insurers is further delaying the conclusion of many victims' cases, a Los Angeles Times analysis showed that the Los Angeles Archdiocese owns at least 1,600 properties worth $4 billion, as of December 2006. In contrast, the San Diego Archdiocese announced early this year that it would file for bankruptcy rather than go to trial over allegations of sexual abuse by priests there.