'You Can't Put a Dollar Sign' on Trauma

By Paul Lewis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 16, 2007

Those alleging sexual abuse by clergy members in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles said yesterday that the record $660 million settlement from the church will go only part of the way toward healing their wounds.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the archbishop of the nation's largest diocese, offered an apology for the abuses, saying yesterday, "It should not have happened and should not ever happen again."

Many victims said they welcomed his words, even as they expressed doubt about whether his regret was sincere.

"It's been such a long journey that, for many of us, [the apology] is just lip service," said Carlos Perez-Carrillo. "I'm not saying it's not genuine. I'm asking: How genuine is it when you're in my shoes?"

Perez-Carrillo, 41, said the combined settlement is "an important step that does bring healing." But he added: "You can't put a dollar sign on a lost childhood and a long life of trauma. There's no way to go back and regain what you've lost."

The apology came a day after the archdiocese, its insurers and several Roman Catholic religious orders agreed to pay an average of $1.3 million to each of the 508 alleged victims to settle their claims, rather than go to trial. The archdiocese also agreed to release confidential files that disclose how the church relocated abusive clergy.

The settlement, which will be formally announced before a Los Angeles judge today, means more than Mahony's apology in terms of vindicating victims' grievances, said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"The validation of a settlement -- a formal, clear acknowledgment that terrible crimes happened and could have been prevented -- that means far more to victims than just flowery words," Clohessy said.

"Many, many survivors have shown great patience and tenacity. They stuck their necks out, they reported terrible crimes, they took action, and they exposed predators. . . . But by the same token, some survivors clearly wanted their day in court to further expose the duplicity of the hierarchy. That won't happen."

Clohessy said most of the thousands of victims in touch with the survivors network are unwilling to speak publicly about their ordeals or the weekend's developments.

Mahony's apology, which was not part of the settlement, was made at Los Angeles's Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, where he presided over the Mass earlier in the day.

"Over the past year, it has been my privilege and grace to meet with many, many victims, one by one . . . and during this time I have come to understand far more deeply than I ever could the impact of this terrible sin and crime that has affected their lives," Mahony said.

"So many of the victims told me in various ways that . . . there really is no way to go back and give them that innocence that was taken from them. It is the one part of the settlement process that I find the most frustrating, because the one thing I wish I could give the victims, I cannot."

Paul Livingston, 40, a plaintiff who claims he was molested repeatedly between 1973 and 1974, dismissed the cardinal's words. "He's apologized, he's made good with money, and this man hasn't seen a day in jail. Why is that? Where are the government officials who are supposed to regulate this stuff? He's apologized before. . . . For years he's been mouthing words," Livingston said.

Raymond Boucher, lead attorney for the victims, said, "Some of the victims clearly have lost all faith in the church and any representatives of the church, including the cardinal." He continued, "Some will find it to be a hollow gesture -- others will take it as a first step in an attempt to achieve reconciliation and healing."

Boucher added that he expects that Mahony will offer personal written apologies to each plaintiff in the coming weeks, with letters tailored to each individual's case, as the cardinal did with the 45 cases settled with a $60 million payout in December.

Mahony said that the archdiocese will have to sell some properties to help fund its share of the settlement and that some of its ministries and services will be impacted. But no parish properties or schools will be affected, he said.

No one from the archdiocese responded yesterday to telephone messages requesting a response to the victims' comments. But Mahony himself has acknowledged a limit to apologies.

"Apologies are vitally necessary," he wrote in a 2004 report on clergy sexual abuse in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, "but of themselves, are insufficient."

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