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San Diego
diocese to pay $198 million to settle 144 abuse claims

San Diego
diocese to pay $198 million to settle 144 abuse claims

The Roman Catholic diocese of San Diego agreed Friday to pay $198 million to settle 144 claims of sexual abuse by clergy, the second-largest payment since the U.S. abuse scandal erupted in 2002.

The agreement capped more than four years of negotiations in state and federal courts. It came six months after the diocese filed for bankruptcy protection just hours before the first of 42 lawsuits was scheduled for trial.

Victims expressed relief that a settlement was reached, but they were angry it took so long.

''They knew all along that I'd been molested, so to put me through this is unconscionable,'' said Michael Bang of Atlanta.

The diocese had sought to protect its assets in bankruptcy court, but quickly found it a rough venue before a judge who criticized the church for its bookkeeping practices, undervaluing its real estate holdings, and failing to disclose facts.

U.S. bankruptcy judge Louise DeCarl Adler recently threatened to dismiss the case if an agreement with sex-abuse plaintiffs was not struck by Tuesday.

The settlement was more than twice the $95 million the church offered to pay to settle the claims as part of its bankruptcy reorganization plan and close to the $200 million sought by victims.

Bishop Robert Brom said in a press release that the church had wanted to settle the lawsuits fairly while also maintaining church programs and services.

''We pray that this settlement will bring some closure and healing to the years of suffering experienced by these victims,'' Brom said.

The bishop apologized to victims at a news conference.

''I'm very, very sorry for the suffering we have caused them and I pray they will walk with God for a renewed life,'' he said.

The San Diego diocese will pay $153 million to settle 111 cases involving its own clergy and $30 million for 22 cases involving members of Catholic orders, church officials said.

The Diocese of San Bernardino, a defendant in some of the cases, will pay $15 million to settle the other 11 claims, all for abuse that occurred after 1978, when San Bernardino split from the San Diego diocese.

''We hope the resolution of these cases will bring a measure of peace and, we hope, a degree of healing and closure for the victims,'' said the Reverend Howard Lincoln, a spokesman for the San Bernardino diocese.

The settlement averages about $1.4 million per claimant, which is slightly higher than what plaintiffs received in other California settlements.

''We shouldn't have had to go through all this,'' said Betty Schneider, 62, of Temecula, who claimed she was molested when she was a 10-year-old and a member of her church choir. ''I have grandkids the same age I was and I hope all this helps kids to be protected better than we were protected.''

The Los Angeles archdiocese settled 508 cases for $660 million in July, two days before jury selection was scheduled to begin in the first of 15 trials involving 172 abuse claimants.

The Diocese of Orange agreed to settle 90 claims for $100 million in 2004 after a judge promised to set trial dates and begin the discovery process if settlement talks collapsed. Bishop Tod D. Brown later said he could not risk a trial in a state where a jury once awarded $30 million to two people who claimed they were sexually abused by clergy.

With nearly 1 million Catholics and holdings throughout San Diego County, the diocese is by far the biggest and wealthiest of the five U.S. dioceses that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection under the shadow of civil claims over sexual abuse.

Dioceses in Spokane, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; and Tucson have already emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The Davenport, Iowa, diocese, which faces claims from more than 150 people, is still in proceedings. (AP)

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