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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

This afternoon Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles apologized to hundreds of church members who claimed they were abused by Roman Catholic clergy.

Cardinal ROGER MAHONY (Archbishop of Los Angeles): I have come to understand far more deeply than I could ever could as the impact of this terrible sin and crime that has affected our lives.

ELLIOTT: Cardinal Mahony spoke after his archdiocese agreed to pay $660 million to victims of sexual abuse. This settlement is four times bigger than what Boston or any other diocese has paid out. The agreement to settle in Los Angeles heads off 15 civil lawsuits, one of which was supposed to go to trial tomorrow.

We begin our program tonight with this report from NPR's religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Haggerty.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGGERTY: For the past six weeks, Steven Sanchez has been preparing for trial and this is his story he would have told the jury.

When he was 9 years old, Sanchez met Father Clinton Hagenbach who is in-charge of training the altar boys at his local parish. Sanchez says Hagenbach lured him and the other boys to his room against the rules of the parish.

Mr. STEVEN SANCHEZ (Plaintiff): The last time that he had with the kids in the room was kind of like a fraternity house - alcohol, pornography, guns - a lot of stuff that would make a young teenager want to hang around there.

BRADLEY HAGGERTY: Eventually Sanchez says the priest began to sexually abuse him. He likens it to being, quote, "a weak man in prison." The abuse lasted through his teens. It was not until 2001 that Sanchez came forward. That was when Sanchez's two brothers and more than a dozen other men revealed that they, too, had been abused.

Sanchez is one of more than 500 victims who sued the archdiocese for covering up the abuse by some 220 clerics. After five years of negotiations, lawyers for the archdiocese and the plaintiffs came to an agreement on Saturday.

J. Michael Hennigan, the lead lawyer for the Church, says they needed to get everyone in line and not just the archdiocese.

Mr. J. MICHAEL HENNIGAN (Lead Lawyer, Archdiocese of Los Angeles): Twelve different insurance companies and participating religious orders as well. So I think it was the looming trial date that got everybody's attention fixed sufficiently so we could get this be all done.

BRADLEY HAGGERTY: But Jeffrey Anderson, an attorney representing Sanchez and more than a hundred others in the suit, sees another catalyst. Cardinal Roger Mahony was going to be one of the first witnesses called to the stand.

Mr. JEFFREY ANDERSON (Plaintiff's Lawyer): He was going to be required to talk about his role in the concealment, not only involving Father Clinton Hagenbach, but all the other clerical offenders that he has protected for so many years. So the trial for this archdiocese and this cardinal would be more than devastating.

BRADLEY HAGGERTY: The archdiocese expects to pay $250 million in cash with insurance picking up the rest. To raise the money, Attorney Hennigan says, the archdiocese will sell off properties, including its main administration center.

Mr. HENNIGAN: It's going to be financially painful, there is going to be the liquidation of assets in order to fill the holes that are being created by this settlement. But we are confident that no essential ministries will be compromised.

BRADLEY HAGGERTY: According to the settlement, which is expected to be signed by Superior Court Judge Haley Fromholz, the church will allow documents about the accused priests to be released to the public.

But Steve Sanchez is skeptical because the judge will decide which files to release. In other cases, priests have objected on privacy grounds and the documents remained sealed. Sanchez says he feels somewhat deflated.

Mr. SANCHEZ: I wanted to have my case tried out and heard by a jury of my peers, and aired out in public, you know, what the archdiocese had done to cover up all of these cases.

BRADLEY HAGGERTY: And now you don't get that?

Mr. SANCHEZ: No.

BRADLEY HAGGERTY: Each plaintiff will get about $1.3 million, but Sanchez says that won't bring back his childhood.

Barbara Bradley Haggerty, NPR News.

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