The Largest Catholic Church Sex Assault Settlement in US History

largest catholic church settlement
Tags catholic priest sex abuse, child abuse, Child Victims Act, sex abuse victim rights

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While there is still an enormous amount of work to be done to bring justice to the Catholic Church, the United States has truly come a long way in doing right by victims. From the passing of legislation like the NY Child Victims Act, to world-wide exposure on popular television programs, there have been many moments in the troubling history of church abuse that give hope to victims and lay the groundwork for future victories over injustice.

The Largest Catholic Church Settlement

One such moment occurred on July 14, 2007, when Cardinal Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles settled the largest Catholic Church sex assault settlement in the history of the church. 

508 victims were awarded a total of $660 million – an incredible $1.3 million each. 

“Some of the victims have waited more than five decades for a chance at reconciliation and resolution,” said Raymond Boucher, the main attorney for the plaintiffs. “This is a down payment on that debt long overdue.”

“The Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay 508 sexual-abuse victims a record $660 million – on top of previous settlements totaling $114 million. The payment dwarfs all others, in large part because in 2003 California enacted a law opening a one-year window for suits previously barred by statutes of limitation. (In addition, the archdiocesan seminary graduated an unusually high number of men later accused of sexual abuse.) To date, the scandal in the United States has cost dioceses roughly $2 billion, with Los Angeles accounting for nearly half that total.

But the staggering size of the L.A. settlement can be traced to another cause. The agreement came after years of legal wrangling – and just days before the cases would have gone to trial – as the archdiocese fought to keep priest-personnel files from plaintiffs and prosecutors. The archdiocese dubiously argued that bishop-priest communications are protected by the First Amendment, and that releasing such information would violate the priests’ right to privacy. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed: in 2006 it refused to overturn a state-court ruling against the archdiocese. By that point, however, the clock had run out on the statutes of limitation in some cases, meaning that suits against several priests were dismissed. This caused many to wonder if that was the desired result.”

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What this Means for Victims

Settlements of this magnitude have the incredible ability to pierce the legal shield put up by the Catholic Church. Decades of lobbying and political influence allowed the Catholic Church to continue their practices for far too long, and perpetuated the epidemic of abuse cases. 

Victories like this one help not only to get justice for victims, but also to encourage other victims to pursue their own justice.

Still, the $660 million won for victims is only a drop in the bucket for the Church, and the Archdiocese of LA. The Vatican alone is said to have a net worth of $10-15 billion, which is completely separate from dioceses across the globe. 

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