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Settlement reached in Crespi High sex abuse case

October 27, 2006|John Spano | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Archdiocese and a Roman Catholic religious order have agreed to pay $10 million to seven people, including two who said they were sexually molested by clergy at an Encino school.

The case involved Dominic Savino, 67, a Carmelite priest who spent many years as a teacher and administrator at Crespi Carmelite High School.

Also named as a defendant was former Crespi Principal John Knoernschild and two other members of the order not associated with the school.

Most of the settlement will be paid by the Carmelite order; the archdiocese will contribute about 5%, a church spokesman said.

"I compliment the Carmelites for stepping up and doing the right thing," said John C. Manly, a Costa Mesa lawyer who represented several victims. "On the other hand, it's unfortunate that this had to happen at the point of a legal gun."

Last March, the Franciscan order of California became the first to settle claims of abuse filed in Los Angeles. The Franciscans agreed to pay $28 million to 25 victims.

The seven Carmelite cases are dwarfed by more than 560 unresolved claims from litigants who say they were abused by Catholic priests in Southern California over the last 70 years. That massive litigation has been pending for years as dozens of lawyers have spent thousands of hours trying to come to an agreement that would avoid expensive trials, the first of which are scheduled for next month.

Though the Carmelite agreement is small, it was seen as a step forward.

"We are encouraged by every settlement, and we hope every one leads to another," said attorney J. Michael Hennigan, who represents the church in Los Angeles.

Savino was ousted from the Crespi presidency in 2002 and suspended from the priesthood by the Carmelites, who operate the school, after they learned of allegations of sexual abuse.

Savino came to the school in 1977 as a part-time counselor; he previously worked at De Sales High School in Louisville, Ky., and served as director of the Carmelite community in Rome.

He left Crespi in 1986 to pursue a doctorate in psychology and subsequently entered private practice in the San Fernando Valley.

He returned to Crespi as the school's resident psychotherapist in 1995.

The Chicago-based order could not be reached for comment.

Manly said the settlement cannot make up for the damage inflicted by the sexual abuse.

"No amount of money is going to make this OK," Manly said of one of the victims he represented. "It's been a long hard road for [the victim]. He was a child and he had every right to believe he would be protected. Instead of being protected, he was used as an object by his two spiritual fathers."

David Clohessy, of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, praised provisions of the settlement that call for the eventual release of church documents relating to the allegations.

"We are grateful for the courage and persistence of these caring victims. We appreciate their bravery in exposing their predators and their wisdom in seeking justice through our legal system," Clohessy said.

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john.spano@latimes.com

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