By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photo by AP/Wideworld
Observers of the Catholic Church sex scandal saw for the first time last Friday what passes for mass closure in these parts. The Diocese of Orange agreed to pay $100 million to 87 victims of 31 priests — minus 40 percent for the victims’ lawyers.
Comes out to less than a million per victim, after the lawyers get paid, but it is a record settlement by the Orange Diocese, which has been crippled for the past year by revelations of corrupt priests and bishops and seemingly complicit D.A.s and cops. Eclipses the $85 million Boston settlement and every other diocese in the country, where for decades priests have buggered little boys, while vicars, bishops and cardinals let them.
Victims had huddled in a Los Angeles courtroom corridor for days, beckoned by their attorneys, who after haggling with the church behind closed doors for two years sensed that the end was near. The end, according to sex-abuse victims in Los Angeles who have weathered a similar ordeal but are dreading the same result, of the most choreographed, pre-ordained and self-serving charade the California legal system could muster.
Then came the kicker: They hugged. Not just each other. They hugged Orange Bishop Tod Brown, and thanked him for ending their suffering. Not the suffering over being molested in their youth by men they were raised to revere as their conduit to God. That is something they will live with the rest of their lives, along with depression, alcoholism and dysfunction, some better compensated than others. No, they thanked him for ending a process they joined on a promise from their lawyers to fight for exposure, accountability and justice, but which resulted in none of the above.
You can’t buy justice. No priest will go to jail in Orange County for raping a child. No church official will have to answer for allowing such crimes to occur, or denying knowledge of molester priests in their ranks. Local power brokers such as GOP leader Tom Fuentes, diocese spokesman during an era of heavy pedophile traffic, and William Lyon, a developer whose home became a haven for an accused priest, will never have to testify under oath about what they knew. Less than six months ago, victims’ attorneys swore to depose "everyone in sight" and fight in court "if it takes a lifetime" to document every move the diocese made in shielding pedo-priests.
Hardly. The record pact merely states that the diocese will relinquish its fight to conceal internal documents that show the extent to which officials ignored reports of molestation, allowing priests to molest again. Since the clergy scandal erupted in Boston, in 2002, eventually ousting former Cardinal Bernard Law, such documents have been the Holy Grail for victims. Such documents, a Los Angeles judge has ruled, are evidence of crimes against children. In Boston, the public knew what it knew because lawyers for the 552 victims and the media forced disclosure of church documents, which showed the whole, sordid, ugly truth — before settlements were reached, not after. Similar revelations have cleansed dioceses in New Hampshire, Phoenix and Tucson.
When will such documents come out in Orange? Nobody knows. How? Wait and see. Will it matter when they do? Not likely.
"Money is what this has always been about," says one detractor of the settlement process, a victim of priest abuse in Los Angeles. "It would be vain for any victim to see their suffering as a means of forcing change in the church."
Last Thursday night, as the courthouse vigil ended, Raymond Boucher, lead attorney for the victims, and Peter Callahan, an attorney for the Orange Diocese, offered a joint statement: "The exact terms of this settlement including the amount for each victim are still being worked out," they said. "As far as documents are concerned, the Diocese has already produced what was required," Boucher continued. "They will be provided to the court for a ruling on what can be legally produced."
Translating, that means neither the lawyers for the diocese nor lawyers for the victims had the courage or conviction to prove their clients’ cases. It means they don’t want responsibility for showing the public, in the writings of the Catholic hierarchy, what church officials knew and when they knew it. Washing their hands of the matter, the lawyers chose resolution with no accountability over a more complete, honest resolution.
Minutes away from the courthouse, Mike Hennigan, the embattled lawyer for Cardinal Roger Mahony and the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which faces more than 500 similar lawsuits and has harbored hundreds of alleged pedophiles since 1930 — sometimes in concert with Orange — waited. He waited to be informed that it was over, for reporters to call him and ask for comment. He told them he really had no involvement with the Orange negotiations. And then he likely called Mahony to deliver the news: Orange, the first in the state, is settled. One down.
California’s management of the clergy scandal in its 12 dioceses has contrasted from other states such as Massachusetts, Arizona and Kentucky, where bishops resigned, priests went to jail, and then lawsuits were settled. In Boston particularly, nothing about the scourge of priest pedophilia went unexamined. But after a backroom deal struck by plaintiffs’ lawyers and Mahony’s lawyers in December 2002, in which they agreed to avoid an open-court battle, and following orders from the California Judicial Council to consolidate thousands of lawsuits across the state, secret negotiations have kept the public in the dark, or confused by leaks and rumors.