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THE STATE

San Diego victims weigh in

They hope the L.A. settlement will spur their own troubled diocese to make amends.

July 17, 2007|Tony Perry and John Spano | Times Staff Writers

SAN DIEGO — Supporters of people who have been sexually abused by local priests said Monday they hoped the Los Angeles Archdiocese settlement would prompt Bishop Robert Brom to settle 150 lawsuits here and release decades' worth of documents about pedophile priests in the San Diego Diocese.

Release of the documents, they said in a news conference on the steps of St. Joseph Cathedral, is key to preventing future molestations.

"I don't think we'll see an end to this until we see a bishop behind bars," said Paul Livingston, who lives in San Diego but is one of 508 claimants in the $660-million settlement with the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk who has written extensively about sexual aberrations in the church, said the Los Angeles and San Diego documents detailing how church officials shielded pedophile priests would be "the most explosive documents to come to light in the Catholic Church in the last 500 years."

The San Diego Diocese filed for bankruptcy in late February, on the eve of what would have been the first of many trials involving allegations of sexual abuse by priests and other church officials.

The bankruptcy filing put the trials in limbo.

Sipe, who lives in La Jolla, said he believed the church filed for bankruptcy so Brom would not have to testify.

Jaime Romo, San Diego director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, called on Catholics to demand that their parish priests release documents showing how priests suspected of being molesters were transferred from one job to another. Romo, an assistant professor at the University of San Diego, also is a claimant in the Los Angeles settlement.

"Go to your priest, ask for the documents, see how far you get," he said.

As part of its bankruptcy case, the San Diego Diocese has offered to pay $95 million to claimants. Lawyers for the diocese and the claimants are now negotiating to see if an out-of-court settlement is possible.

A bankruptcy judge has told the claimants' lawyers to file their suggested settlement terms by Aug. 13.

Assuming the two sides cannot reach a deal, the judge has set an Aug. 23 hearing to discuss allowing the cases to go to trial.

At his Sunday news conference, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony said he told Brom recently that he hoped the San Diego case could be resolved by Labor Day. But he said that unlike the Los Angeles Archdiocese, the San Diego Diocese has only one insurance carrier, "which gives them a lot less coverage."

San Diego attorney Irwin Zalkin, who represents about 30 local claimants, noted that the San Diego Diocese's proposed settlement is about $600,000 per victim, compared with an average of about $1.3 million in Los Angeles.

"I think it devalues the significance of the harm that was done to people in San Diego," Zalkin said.

"It is an insult to the victims, and in and of itself it aggravates the abuse already suffered. It adds insult to injury," he said.

But Micheal Webb, the diocese's attorney, said the Los Angeles settlement would not affect the San Diego negotiations. He said that although the Los Angeles settlement amounts to about $1.3 million per person, settlements in other dioceses had been considerably smaller.

In San Diego, he said, the issue is "balancing the crippling of the mission of the church versus compensating victims."

tony.perry@latimes.com

john.spano@laitmes.com

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