L.A. Archdiocese Settles With Sex Abuse Victims For Nearly $10 Million

The Los Angeles Archdiocese has agreed to pay $10 million to settle a priest sex abuse case. The settlement is the first since documents detailing the involvement of high-ranking church officials — including Cardinal Roger Mahony — in moving and protecting abusive priests. Mahony was at the Vatican where he was one of the 115 cardinals who gathered to select the new pope.

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Among the 115 cardinals who chose the new pope was the former archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony. His presence at the conclave has been controversial. Some Roman Catholic groups had called for him to recuse himself from voting because of revelations that he shielded priests accused of child sex abuse. And this week, Mahony has been in the news because of a nearly $10 million settlement. It's between Mahony, the L.A. archdiocese, and four men who alleged they were abused by a former Catholic priest. NPR's Kirk Siegler has that story.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: This latest settlement is separate from a sweeping, $660 million settlement the L.A. archdiocese reached with clergy sex abuse victims in 2007. But it's the first since a court ordered the archdiocese to make public some 12,000 pages of internal documents detailing how church hierarchy shielded accused priests from law enforcement.

At the center of some of those documents and this latest settlement, is a convicted priest by the name of Michael Baker. According to lawsuits filed by the four men, Father Baker admitted to then-archbishop Roger Mahony in 1986 that he had sexually abused minors. Vince Finaldi is the attorney for the plaintiffs.

VINCE FINALDI: And instead of calling the police and taking him out of ministry, they chose to send him to a religious treatment center for a number of months, and then they put him back in the ministry. And that's where he came into contact with our clients.

SIEGLER: Cardinal Mahony's alleged role in this and dozens more clergy sex abuse cases detailed in the church documents, led to his unprecedented public rebuke by his successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez. J. Michael Hennigan is the attorney for the L.A. archdiocese. He says the case of Father Michael Baker was among the most troubling for Cardinal Mahony because he had taken him at his word in 1986, when Baker said he had been reformed.

J. MICHAEL HENNIGAN: It was certainly a learning experience for him and he - when he learned that he couldn't trust the word of the people who had come forward to confess. I think these cases led to the reforms that happened in the church under his leadership.

SIEGLER: The L.A. archdiocese accepted full responsibility for Father Michael Baker's misconduct, says Hennigan.

HENNIGAN: So there was never an issue about that. It was only an issue about whether we could find the right settlement price; which we did, shortly before the cases were scheduled to go to trial.

SIEGLER: Two of the four men in the latest settlement were brothers whom the lawsuits allege Baker met after he returned from a New Mexico treatment center and was reassigned. And according to the complaints, Baker repeatedly molested them. Their attorney, Vince Finaldi, says the settlement brings some vindication.

FINALDI: It's an affirmation that something indeed did occur to them that was very wrong. It was an affirmation that there was some fault by the archdiocese and Father Baker. And it represents something to help heal the harm that's been done.

SIEGLER: Finaldi says the nearly $10 million will also help his clients pay for counseling, and begin to heal. Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

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