California diocese announces $100M settlement with abuse victims

The Diocese of Orange announced the largest settlement in history with victims of clergy sexual abuse Jan. 3. Bishop Tod D. Brown negotiated the $100-million settlement, which was finalized Dec. 2 but placed under a court seal for one month.

The settlement resolved 90 lawsuits that included allegations against 31 priests, 10 lay personnel, one religious brother and two nuns. The earliest allegation dated to 1936; the latest was 1996.

The settlement, which was in negotiations for two years, surpassed the $85-million settlement the Archdiocese of Boston agreed to pay 552 plaintiffs in 2002.

It also allows for the release of confidential documents from diocesan personnel files after a judge's review. The first records could be released within two months.

"Let this be what everyone remembers from today: that nothing is more important than the protection of our children and our youth," said Bishop Brown at the announcement of the settlement. "I seek their forgiveness, I hope for reconciliation and I know that they have now begun their healing process."

Mark Curran, one of the plaintiffs, said that he forgives the church. "Today, I sit with you next to my brother in Christ, who has practiced his faith – not just with the money, but I see the compassion of Christ in this man," he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

“We have kept our commitment to the victims of these crimes by compensating them, with the help of our insurers, at a level that is, in our view, significant, generous and compassionate,” said the bishop in a written statement. “For us as a church, it is also very, very costly. But such a settlement will allow us, chastened, to move forward with all the good works we do.”

The settlement stipulates that the diocese will pay half of the settlement; its eight insurance companies will pay the other half.

The bishop said the diocese was motivated to come to a settlement to protect the diocese from bankruptcy and spare Catholics and those who care for the Church “the sordid details of these crimes,” which would have been publicized in the media had the cases gone to trial.

“We are ashamed that the crime of sexual abuse took place in our church and are determined that it will not happen again,” he said. Efforts will continue to make church environments safer and “to educate everyone about the horror of childhood sexual abuse in our society,” he added.

Bishop Brown held a prayer service that evening at Holy Family Cathedral. He offered prayers in thanksgiving for the settlement, for reconciliation, healing and restoration of trust.

The implications of this settlement for the other 800 clergy abuse lawsuits pending in dioceses across the state are unclear. Plaintiffs are now urging other bishops to follow the example of the Orange diocese.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, under the leadership of Roger Cardinal Mahony, faces more than 500 lawsuits. The archdiocese is currently in settlement negotiations. Trial dates for some of these cases are expected to be set at a hearing on Friday.

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