LOS ANGELES, Mar 13 – The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles has agreed to pay nearly $10 million to four men who alleged they were molested by a former priest in the 1970s, their lawyers said Tuesday.
LA’s Cardinal Roger Mahony — currently taking part in the Vatican conclave to choose a new pope, despite protests from victims — approved the deal this month, with lawyers for the men and the former priest involved, they said.
The long-delayed release last month of hundreds of files about abuse claims — which came at the same time as Mahony was stripped of his duties for mishandling the scandals — helped precipitate the settlements, a lawyer said.
The priest involved, Reverend Michael Baker, molested the four young victims repeatedly in the 1970s, including on overnight trips to San Diego, according to the legal documents.
The lawsuits claim that then-Archbishop Mahony allowed him to continue to minister as a priest even though Baker admitted in 1986 that he had sexually abused minors in the past.
Baker was jailed for over 10 years in December 2007 after pleading guilty to 12 felony counts of oral copulation with a minor, involving two of the victims in these lawsuits. He was released in October 2011.
Lawyer Vince Finaldi said Baker was scheduled to be a witness, if the lawsuits — filed after the LA archdiocese reached a $660 million settlement with abuse victims in 2007 — had gone to trial.
The LA archdiocese released files last month on over 100 clerics accused of sex abuse, as required under the 2007 lawsuit deal, including some showing Mahony discussing how to cover up alleged crimes.
Finaldi said the release of the files “played heavily” into the archdiocese’s decision to settle the cases. “Once we got the files, it confirmed everything we had argued for years and years,” he told the LA Times.
“Cardinal Mahony’s fingerprints were all over the case,” he added.
Lawyers for the victims said they plan to give more details of the cases at a press conference Thursday.
Michael Hennigan, a lawyer for the archdiocese, said: “We’re pleased to reach settlement here. We have always taken full responsibility for the misconduct of Michael Baker, so that was never an issue.
“It was just a matter of reaching an agreement on a reasonable price, which we’re pleased to have been able to do,” he told AFP.
It is not clear what the victims’ press conference will reveal, but Hennigan said there were no secrets about the deal. “I don’t have any idea. That’ll be up to them. But there’s nothing confidential about the settlement.”
Mahony traveled to Rome to participate in the conclave to choose a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, despite calls from victims’ groups for him to stay home following the recent revelations about his role in covering up alleged abuse.
Mahony, who retired in 2011, was stripped of his remaining church duties in January by his successor Archbishop Jose Gomez for mishandling claims against dozens of priests.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) hailed the settlement. But they said: “No amount of money can restore the shattered trust and stolen childhoods of deeply wounded victims.
“We applaud their courage in stepping forward, seeking justice and reminding us all that this crisis in the church remains far from finished,” SNAP director David Clohessy told AFP.