The New York Times
A Settlement in Los
EDITORIAL, nytimes on
the Web, July 17, 2007
In announcing a $660 million
settlement for more than 500 victims of sexual abuse by clergy members, Cardinal
Roger Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles tried to soothe the turbulent
waters with conciliatory oil. “Once again, I apologize to anyone who has
been offended, to anyone who has been abused,” he said.
It is up to the survivors to judge what those words are worth, but it helps to
know the context in which they were spoken. They came just before the
first trial would have started, at which Cardinal Mahony would have been
required to testify. They followed four years of stonewalling and
legalistic warfare by the archdiocese, the nation’s largest, that needlessly
delayed this outcome and prolonged the suffering of hundreds of plaintiffs.
And they came, of course, far too late for the children and adults whose
innocence and trust were violated by priests.
Facing two avenues of public confession — apologizing before cameras or
testifying about what he did or did not do about predatory priests — Cardinal
Mahony took the gentler path. Facing the possibility of jury awards, and
the exhumation and examination of evil acts, the archdiocese bought an expensive
blanket of silence and financial closure.
The latest payment — millions of it from insurance companies, religious orders
whose members were abusers and other sources — leaves the archdiocese free to
move on, its leadership untouched and its parishes and schools unaffected.
Adding in previous settlements, the archdiocese will end up giving more than
three-quarters of $1 billion to the people on whom its priests preyed. The
Catholic Church in the United States has paid more than $2 billion to survivors
and their families — so far.
Those victims will never be made whole. The Los Angeles survivors will
have about $1.3 million each, for treatment and therapy. They have the
consolation of public vindication, the acknowledgment by the cardinal himself
that a “terrible sin and crime” was inflicted upon them. And many have
avoided reliving their anguish at trial.
But many also remain dissatisfied that the full truth about that sin, how it was
abetted and tolerated by church leaders, may never be revealed. The
settlement calls for the archdiocese to turn over internal files on abuse cases
to a retired judge, who will decide whether and how to make them public.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers say they expect still more struggling as the diocese fights
to keep incriminating documents under wraps.
Three years after the Catholic bishops resolved in Dallas to set their house in
order, the spirit of openness, humility and reconciliation from that historic
meeting has failed to take root. Cardinal Mahony, like many of his
counterparts, has avoided having to square his words with his deeds in open
court. The money may bring some comfort to the church’s surviving victims,
but their hunger for the full truth and accountability has yet to be