San Diego Diocese Settles Abuse Claims

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The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego has settled lawsuits with alleged abuse victims for $198 million, twice the amount church officials offered just a few months ago. The settlement resolves decades-old allegations from scores of men and women molested by priests.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

When you get an awful little ditty stuck in your head, the best thing you can do is to try and replace it with something better, say, Cole Porter or Clash. But if you're Beethoven, you'd transform it into 33 sublime pieces of music. That story coming up.

But first, we'll catch you up on this new in San Diego where the Catholic Church will pay nearly $200 million to people who say they were sexually abused by priests. It's the second largest settlement of its kind behind Los Angeles. And it's one more huge payout for another California diocese caught up in the clergy sex scandal.

So far, the Catholic Church has agreed to pay California abuse victims more than a billion dollars. That's about half the money the Church has handed over nationwide.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: The San Diego settlement covers 144 people who were abused by priests as far back as 1938. Most of the cases occurred in the 1960s and '70s. Many of the victims held hands outside the federal courthouse in San Diego yesterday as Attorney Irwin Zalkin announced the settlement.

Mr. IRWIN ZALKIN (Attorney, Zalkin & Zimmer): This is their day. This is their time. This is their vindication. This is their moment of truth.

HORSLEY: Some of the victims were in tears as they told their stories. Forty-six-year-old Michael Bang spoke of being abused for seven years by Monsignor William Kraft, who died in 2001. Bang calls the settlement, averaging more than $1.3 million per victim, a monumental agreement. But, he says, he's angry as hell it took so long to achieve.

Mr. MICHAEL BANG: I mean, this is supposed to be a church of God. They're supposed to be people that are looking out for the welfare and the goodness of the children of the Church. And all they're worried about is the bottom line, the dollars.

HORSLEY: The San Diego Diocese filed for bankruptcy protection back in February, just as the first of the clergy-abuse lawsuits was set to go to trial.

In recent days, a bankruptcy judge had been threatening to reject the bankruptcy petition saying the diocese had misrepresented its wealth. Faced with the possibility of dozens of jury trials, the diocese agreed to sweeten its financial offer to victims.

Bishop Robert Brom says while some have accused the diocese of foot-dragging and ducking its responsibility, the Church has tried to be fair to everyone.

Bishop ROBERT BROM (San Diego Diocese): Hopefully, the settlement that has been accomplished will serve to begin a healing process, especially for the victims of abuse, but also for the Church. Once again, I want to apologize to those abused and their families, and in the name of the Church, to beg their forgiveness.

HORSLEY: Insurance will cover about 40 percent of the cost of the settlement. Church officials say they'll have to sell some property and borrow money to pay the rest. But they don't expect to close any parishes or schools.

As part of the settlement, victims plan to create a Web site documenting both the priests' abuses and the response of the Church, which Michael Bang calls a cover-up.

Mr. BANG: I want to make sure that the public understands that this was going on for decades and that they move these priests around and that they knew it was going on. They have to take responsibility for this now.

HORSLEY: In a pastoral message to parishioners tomorrow, Bishop Brom will ask San Diego's 1 million Catholics to embrace the challenge for renewal. He says everyone in the Church must continue their efforts to make it a safe and happy place for children and young people.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.

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