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A victory for victim of abuse

With the receipt of $500,000 from the L.A. Archdiocese, a two-decade legal battle ends for a woman molested by priests. One fathered her daughter.

December 05, 2007|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

Rita Milla's story rocked the Archdiocese of Los Angeles when she first told it 23 years ago. Seven Roman Catholic priests, she said, had sexually abused her when she was a teenager, with one eventually fathering her child. The devout young woman who had once hoped to become a nun instead gave birth in secret in the Philippines.

On Tuesday, her decades-long legal battle came to an emotional end.

Looking somber and relieved, Milla received $500,000 from the archdiocese, part of a $660-million settlement between the church and hundreds of people alleging abuse at the hands of priests.

The church "didn't care about the children's souls," Milla, 46, said Tuesday. "The only thing they understood was the money."

Milla's daughter Jackie, a toddler when her mother first sued the diocese for more than $15 million in a case that was later dismissed, is now 25.

Her birth father was named Tuesday as Father Valentine Tugade. A DNA test legally established Tugade's paternity in 2003, said Gloria Allred, Milla's longtime attorney, during a news conference at her Miracle Mile office.

Tugade at some point lived in the Bay Area city of Fremont, but Allred said she did not know if he was still alive.

Jackie "has not seen him and does not wish to see him, because she feels she was the child of a rape," Allred said.

Milla's 1984 lawsuit accused seven priests of seducing her, starting when she was 16, and sending her abroad to give birth.

The late Father Santiago Tamayo first made advances to an adolescent Milla, who sang in the choir and taught Sunday school at a Carson parish, through a broken confessional screen.

The religious young woman assumed that the priests "would know what is a sin," she said in a 1984 interview. The clergymen told her that sometimes priests "got lonely too."

Some in the Catholic community initially doubted Milla's claims and labeled her a criminal and a liar.

Later, archdiocese letters showed that church officials advised Tamayo to remain in his native Philippines to avoid legal troubles and paid him to stay there.

In 1991, Tamayo publicly apologized to Milla for having sex with her.

On Tuesday, Allred called the settlement "an acknowledgment that Rita was right and [church officials] were wrong."

In a low, halting voice, Milla described the pain of losing her beloved Catholic faith more than 20 years ago. "It was horrible, because that was my whole identity," said the medical assistant from Carson. "It was like . . . ripped away from me. I felt like I was nothing for so many years."

Milla said she felt dismissed by church leaders when she asked for help. "It felt like God hanging up the phone on me," she said.

At one point, she said, priests urged her to have an abortion and then told her to leave her daughter overseas, for Milla to adopt later.

The archdiocese, which began making payments to victims this week, declined to comment about Milla's case but in a statement said it was committed to protecting children from sexual abuse.

Milla said she is hopeful now that the church will take sexual abuse claims more seriously. She said she is ready to move beyond her traumatic past.

"Maybe," Milla said, "I can enjoy life a little bit."

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com

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