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Orange Bishop to Apologize in Huge Abuse Settlement

A record-setting $100-million agreement in the Catholic Church's sex scandal also will make confidential files public.

January 04, 2005|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

Church officials have said their share would come from a combination of cash reserves, loans on property and investments, and perhaps the sale of their 17-acre headquarters in Orange. In anticipation of the settlement, the diocese had already cut some services and a dozen jobs last summer. The diocese had a $171-million investment portfolio and $23.4 million in cash reserves at the end of the 2003 fiscal year, according to its financial statement.

Brown has previously vowed not to close parishes.

Monday's settlement exceeds the $85-million deal the Boston Archdiocese made last year to end litigation with 552 people who said they were abused by priests.

The agreement also ends claims against men who were some of the diocese's most notorious former priests, including Msgr. Michael A. Harris, Eleuterio Ramos and Siegfried Widera.

Nine men sued the diocese in 2003, alleging that Harris, their former principal, sexually assaulted them while they attended Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana or Santa Margarita High School in Rancho Santa Margarita. Harris quit the priesthood in 2001 after the Los Angeles and Orange dioceses paid $5.2 million to one of his alleged victims. Harris has denied the charges.

Ramos was accused in court of molesting 11 children while at St. Angela Merici Catholic Church in Brea, Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Santa Ana, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in La Habra and St. Anthony Claret Catholic Church in Anaheim, from 1972 to 1989. He admitted to police in May 2003 that he molested at least 25 boys in Orange County. Criminal charges against him were dropped in 2003 after the U.S. Supreme Court barred the prosecution of decades-old criminal sex-abuse cases, though civil cases have not been barred. Ramos has since died.

Nine men accused Widera of sexually assaulting them as children at St. Justin Martyr Catholic Church in Anaheim and St. Martin de Porres in Yorba Linda from 1975 to 1986.

Widera was facing 42 felony counts of molestation in California and his home state of Wisconsin when he committed suicide in Mexico in 2003.

One of the accused, Richard Delahunty, was returned to the ministry last month in Laguna Woods, after an internal church investigation found "no credible evidence" against him. He is pastor at St. Nicholas Church. Another priest covered by the settlement, James M. Ford, is pastor at San Roque Catholic Church in Santa Barbara. He has previously denied the allegations.

Irvine attorney Katherine K. Freberg praised the courage of her 33 clients: "You will never know how many victims you have saved by coming forward," she said.

John C. Manly, a Costa Mesa attorney with 30 clients, challenged Brown to continue to be a "beacon of hope for reform in my church."

At the news conference, several alleged victims, many of them in tears, also thanked Brown.

"Today I sit with you next to my brother in Christ, who has practiced his faith not just with the money, but I see the compassion of Christ in this man, and that means a lot to me," said Mark Curran, one of several men present who said they were sexually abused as boys.

"Of course, we forgive you," Curran told the bishop. "You did not do this to us. A select few did."

Times staff writer David Haldane contributed to this report.

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