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Diocese, Chorus OK Settlement in Molestation Suit : Courts: Financial terms are not disclosed. Former member of boys choral group alleged that priest sexually abused him for 5 years.

October 21, 1994|TRACY WEBER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and the Costa Mesa-based All-American Boys Chorus have quietly settled a lawsuit brought by a man who charged that the priest who founded the chorus had molested him beginning when he was a 10-year-old chorus member.

The terms of the settlement were sealed Tuesday at the request of the defendants, but the attorney for Stephen Archambo, the former chorus member, said he and his client are satisfied with the dollar amount. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana in January, alleged that Father Richard T. Coughlin molested Archambo, now 26, over a five-year period.

"Steve is pleased. He's happy," said Mark Roseman, the Santa Ana attorney representing Archambo and another former chorus member who has filed a separate suit. "He trusts that the settlement is what he is entitled to under the circumstances."

Diocesan officials were unavailable to comment on the settlement. Coughlin, who resigned from the chorus in December, 1992, was not at the settlement conference and could not be reached.

Roseman said he has been unable to find the 70-year-old priest, who has never been served with the suit. But Roseman said he was told by diocesan officials that the chorus--which is not affiliated with the diocese--continues to pay Coughlin $400 a month plus car payments.

A board member for the internationally known chorus would not comment on the settlement nor whether Coughlin receives payments from the group. Instead, board member John Bovaird read a statement saying that Coughlin "has had no contact or affiliation with the chorus" since he resigned.

"Father Coughlin's activities are completely and totally separate from the All-American Boys Chorus," Bovaird said.

Also named in the suit are the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where Coughlin worked before the Diocese of Orange was formed in 1976, and, in separate allegations, Father Gary Pacheco and the Franciscan Friars of California.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles did not participate in the settlement and will most likely go to trial, Roseman said.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles "knew a whole long time, even before the chorus started, that Father Coughlin had some problems," Roseman said.

The settlement of the Coughlin suit brings to partial closure the extremely public and tragic fall of one of Southern California's most popular and well-known priests.

Coughlin, who founded the chorus as an Anaheim parish youth project in 1970, was suspended by the diocese in January, 1993, when allegations surfaced that he had molested four chorus members between 1970 and 1983. A fifth man alleged that the priest molested him in Boston, where he worked before coming to Orange County in 1965.

The popular father was subsequently ordered to sever all ties with the chorus--composed of about 100 boys ages 9 through 14--and told to stop functioning as a priest.

In an interview in February, 1993, Coughlin said he had "absolutely no recollection, I swear to the Almighty, of these charges. . . . I'm a confused and very much destroyed man."

In addition to Archambo, Patrick O'Neill, another former chorus member, sued the priest. O'Neill's case, filed in Orange County Superior Court last year, is still pending.

Archambo, now living in Illinois, alleged in his suit that while he was a member of the chorus from 1978 to 1983, Coughlin fondled him during long bus trips and on one occasion in the shower. Archambo did not link the alleged childhood sexual abuse to psychological problems he was having as an adult until last year, the suit says.

Roseman said he did not know why the diocese and the chorus elected to settle the Archambo suit, but he said "implicit in the settlement" is that the organizations feel they would be at risk in a court judgment.

Also settled as part of the same suit Tuesday were separate molestation charges against Father Pacheco, a former Franciscan who worked at Sts. Simon & Jude Church in Huntington Beach.

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