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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 July 2007, 21:46 GMT 22:46 UK
LA Church 'agrees abuse pay deal'
Priest holding hosts
Since 2002 nearly 1,000 people have filed abuse claims in California
More than 500 people allegedly abused by Los Angeles Catholic priests are to receive a record-breaking compensation pay-out, their main lawyer says.

The deal, which a judge must approve, is reported to be worth $660m (324m).

With the alleged abuse dating back to the 1940s, lawyer Ray Boucher said it was payment of a long overdue debt.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, the leader of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, later apologised to the victims, pledging that the abuse "will not happen again".

"There really is no way to go back and give them that innocence that was taken from them. The one thing I wish I could give the victims... I cannot," Cardinal Mahony said.

'Transparency critical'

It would be the largest payment by the US Church since the abuse became public in 2002 and just before a series of trials into sex claims were to begin.

The agreement, if approved, will settle all 15 upcoming paedophilia trials against Los Angeles archdiocese and avoids the threat of Cardinal Mahony being forced to testify about how the Church dealt with abuses spanning the 1940s to 1990s.

Los Angeles diocese records released in the past revealed that for decades priests accused of child sex abuse were simply moved to new assignments or provided with therapy, Church leaders believing that they could be rehabilitated.

Steven Sanchez
Plaintiff Steven Sanchez had been preparing for trial

This latest settlement calls for the release of confidential priest personnel files, Mr Boucher said.

"Transparency is a critical part of this and of all resolutions," he said.

Steven Sanchez, a plaintiff in the case, said he was both relieved and disappointed by the outcome.

"I was really emotionally ready to take on the archdiocese in court in less than 48 hours, but I'm glad all victims are going to be compensated," he said.

"I hope all victims will find some type of healing in this process."

Insurance claim

The deal is expected to be officially announced in a joint statement to be released by the plaintiffs and archdiocese later on Sunday, and a news conference will take place on Monday.

The reported figure of $660m dwarfs the $157m settlement paid out by the diocese of Boston following a child sex scandal which became public in 2002.

Cardinal Roger Mahony - file picture 10/05/2006
Cardinal Mahony has said property will be sold to raise the funds
The Los Angeles payment, which amounts to an average of $1.3m for each plaintiff, takes the total paid out by US dioceses to $2bn since 1950, with Los Angeles paying about one quarter of that.

Los Angeles is the country's most populous Catholic diocese, serving more than three million parishioners, but the scandal has brought the archdiocese close to financial ruin.

According to Church lawyers the diocese is likely to pay $250m in cash, the rest of the sum being covered by insurance and payments by religious orders.

Earlier this year, Cardinal Mahoney told parishioners in an open letter that the Church would sell its 12-storey administrative building and was considering the sale of about 50 other non-essential properties to raise funds.

The abuse has also severely dented confidence in the Church and its leaders, the BBC's Peter Bowes in Los Angeles says.

'Stolen childhood'

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said while it was the largest settlement by the Church, money was not the key objective for victims.

"No settlement, no amount of money, can restore the shattered trust and the stolen childhoods and the betrayed faith of people who were wounded by abusive priests and by complicit bishops," he said.

"But, having said that, certainly this represents a tremendous achievement by these brave survivors, who somehow found the strength to come forward, report the crimes, get legal help, expose the predators and ultimately endure a pretty long, gruelling legal process."

Since 2002 nearly 1,000 people have filed such claims against the Roman Catholic Church in California alone.

In February 2004, a report commissioned by the Church said more than 4,000 Roman Catholic priests in the US had faced sexual abuse allegations in the last 50 years.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Activists and lawyers talk about the apparent settlement



SEE ALSO
Timeline: US Church sex scandal
07 Feb 05 |  Americas
LA diocese settles abuse claims
01 Dec 06 |  Americas
Abuse must be addressed says Pope
28 Oct 06 |  Northern Ireland
US archdiocese loses claims fight
31 Dec 05 |  Americas
Sex claims bankrupt US archdiocese
07 Jul 04 |  Americas
Massive church closures in Boston
27 May 04 |  Americas

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