A Los Angeles approved a $660 million settlement between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and more than 500 people who were sexually abused by members of the clergy.
Some of the plaintiffs sobbed as the deal was formally approved by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Haley Fromholz, and a moment of silence was held for others who died during the five years of negotiations.
The settlement amount averages a little more than $1.3 million per plaintiff, although individual payouts will vary according to the severity and duration of the abuse alleged.
"This is the right result," said Fromholz. The deal is by far the largest payout by any diocese since the clergy abuse scandal came to light in Boston in 2002.
The settlement also calls for the release of priests' confidential personnel files after review by a judge.
After the settlement agreement was announced on Sunday, Cardinal Roger Mahony apologized to the hundreds of sex abuse victims who will receive a share of the settlement.
"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," he said. "Once again, I apologize to anyone who has been offended, who has been abused. It should not have happened and should not ever happen again."
Mahony said he has met with dozens of victims of clergy abuse in the past 14 months, and those meetings helped him understand the importance of a quick resolution to the case.
The cardinal said the settlement will not have an impact on the archdiocese's core ministry, but he said the church will have to sell buildings, use some of its invested funds and borrow money. He said the archdiocese will not sell any parish properties or parish schools.
The settlement spares the church 15 damaging and costly trials. The first was to begin Monday with the case of Father Clinton Hagenback.
Hagenback, who died in 1987, left a legacy of more than a dozen traumatized boys. Steven Sanchez was one of them. He said the abuse lasted through his teens.
"Things that happened to victims of this perp (perpetrator) were things that would happen to a weak male in prison system," Sanchez said.
It was only in 2001 that Sanchez learned both of his brothers had also been abused.
Sanchez says his treatment was typical. At first, the archdiocese claimed they had no records about Father Hagenback. Then, they said they had 80 pages in his file. Later, they gave his lawyers a 240-page summary. As the case went forward, Sanchez was grilled by attorneys for the archdiocese and the insurance companies.
"I had to go through deposition. Mom, Dad, my little brother, big brother, everyone's been dragged through this again," he said.
J. Michael Hennigan, lead attorney for the archdiocese, said a lot of information had to be obtained from the victims. He said the archdiocese was eager to settle the claims and move on, but their co-defendants were not.
"We would have loved to have done this years ago, but it was going to take this case (getting) ready for trial before the insurance companies had satisfied themselves that they had done all they needed to do to protect their own shareholders," Hennigan said.
Sanchez said the settlement cannot give him back what he lost. "Where can I take that check and cash it in to someplace that can make me 10 years old again?" he asked.
From NPR and The Associated Press reports