Skip to comments.San Diego priest abuse claims settled [$198.1M agreement with 144 childhood sexual abuse victims]
Posted on 09/07/2007 10:24:37 PM PDT by Alex Murphy
SAN DIEGO The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego reached a $198.1 million agreement with 144 childhood sexual abuse victims Friday morning.
The settlement was reached after marathon discussions between attorneys and victims. As part of the settlement, the diocese will also ask a federal bankruptcy judge to dismiss its Chapter 11 case.
Another important part of the agreement was the diocese's promise to release church documents about priest abuse, said Irwin M. Zalkin, an attorney for 33 victims in the case. He said that without that concession, the victims would not have agreed to settle their claims.
The amount each victim will receive is to be determined by a state judge in a week or two, Zalkin said. Victims will likely get two payments, in January and in September 2008.
This has been a journey for some people, in some cases, 30, 40 years, who have suffered an immense harm that is difficult for anyone to comprehend, Zalkin said. This is their day. This is their time. This is their vindication. This is their moment of truth.
Children need to be protected and that's what these lawsuits have been all about.
Zalkin and several victims in the case stood outside the federal courthouse downtown and spoke to reporters after the settlement was announced. Some stood holding onto each other and cried as they spoke.
Among them was Michael Bang, a 46-year-old Atlanta resident who says he was abused by a priest in San Diego from 1971 to 1979.
These documents that we entered into the agreement represent a monumental agreement, Bang said. This has taken years to get here and I'm angry as hell that it took that long to get here.
Bang, who said he was prepared to go to trial in his case, said he has kept all of his documents and is willing to share boxes and boxes of them.
He said the settlement is not fair for what he's been through.
It'll never be fair. My life has been up and down, up and down, he said. It's unconscionable. I mean this is supposed to be the church of God. They're supposed to be people that are looking out for the welfare and the goodness of the children of the church. And all they're worried about is the bottom line. Guy Lowry, another victim, said It's been four long, hard years. As a victim, it's not easy. We wish it had been. But good things take time.
In an afternoon news conference, Bishop Robert Brom repeatedly apologized to victims, their families and friends in the name of the church, to beg their forgiveness.
Today's settlement, Brom said, was a chapter in the diocese's commitment to address and to put an end to the sexual abuse of children in the church and in society.
Noting the diocese's updated Policy on Sexual Abuse by Church Ministers, Brom said, We have become painfully aware of the tragic plight of victims and we continue to invite any victims of abuse to come forward and to accept our offer of help toward healing and reconciliation.
The breakdown of the payout, Brom said, is that the Diocese of San Diego will pay $77.1 million and its insurance carrier will pay $75.7 million a total of $152.8 million for 111 cases. The diocese will also pay $30.3 million for 22 cases involving members of religious orders, some of which it hopes to recover from those orders.
In addition, the Diocese of San Bernardino (which went independent in 1978) and its insurers will pay more than $15.1 million for 11 cases, Brom said.
Zalkin said the priests and church workers accused in the case cannot face prosecution because the criminal statute of limitations has expired.
The diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Feb. 27 amid allegations by roughly 150 men and women who said they were sexually abused by priests and church workers as minors. It was the largest diocese in the country to seek bankruptcy protection in the face of such allegations.
The victims were seeking financial compensation and disclosures from church hierarchy about what they knew about the abuse and when they knew it.
After four years of failed settlement talks, Brom sought bankruptcy protection, saying it was the best way available for us to compensate all the victims as fairly and equitably as our resources will allow.
The diocese previously offered to settle the case for $95 million settlement offer, about $600,000 per victim. The victims' attorneys were seeking twice that amount.
Settlements in other dioceses across the country have also included agreements that church leaders would release documents about the abuse cases, along with information about pedophile priests being transferred from one parish to another.
The diocese had been under increased pressure to settle after federal Bankruptcy Judge Louise DeCarl Adler threatened to dismiss its case. She cited a court-ordered report of the diocese's finances, which she said revealed several financial irregularities.
The judge also had criticized the diocese's earlier $95 million settlement offer, noting it was well below other settlements reached in California. And she questioned whether attorneys were forum shopping, or looking for courts that would look more favorably on their case.
Most of the lawsuits the San Diego diocese faces were filed in 2003, when the state temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on filing lawsuits for sexual abuse.
In July, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay an estimated $660 million to more than 500 victims of child sexual abuse by clergy, making it the largest settlement since the nationwide Roman Catholic scandal erupted in 2002.
At that time, Cardinal Roger Mahony said he hoped Brom would soon settle the lawsuits the diocese was facing.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Leo Papas presided over the closed-door negotiations, which lasted for 11 hours Thursday, until about midnight. They resumed Friday morning and concluded shortly before 11:30 a.m.
so after the lawyers take their cut, the victims should clear about $25 and a McDonalds coupon each