Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The Plaintiff's Attorney and the Sundance Kid

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 08, 2006

Vision Book Cover Prints

The "play now, pay later" legal maneuverings of Cardinal Mahony continue. The LA Times reports on the latest episode:

The Times reported Friday that Mahony and lawyers for 45 alleged victims of abuse, after three years of desultory negotiations, are moving toward a settlement that would pay an average of at least $1 million per claim. The settlement, if approved, would involve less than 10% of the more than 560 cases filed against the archdiocese, and would come almost entirely out of the archdiocese's coffers.

Mahony's lawyer said the roughly four dozen cases were selected for settlement because they are largely not covered by the church's insurers, which the archdiocese blames for stalling negotiations to resolve the bulk of the claims. Insurers have said the archdiocese forfeited its coverage by covering up the sexual misdeeds of its priests.

"We do not have the resources to settle more than these cases," J. Michael Hennigan, lead attorney for the archdiocese, said Friday. "We have always said that with respect to the other cases, that we believe we are adequately insured to cover the amount of the remaining obligation."

I fail to grasp the reasoning underlying Hennigan's confidence that "we are adequately insured," when those same insurers claim the policies are void and are suing the policy-holder. But the interesting aspect of this story concerns the dates of the allegations the Archdiocese wants to settle with cash:

The proposed deal would cover priests whose alleged acts of abuse occurred after 1985, the year Mahony became Los Angeles archbishop. It could put $1 million or more into the hands of the prosecution's key witness against retired priest Michael Wempe, whose lawyers have admitted that he molested 13 boys decades ago.

Last November we noted the equally curious coincidence that the 44 "representative cases" the Archdiocese agreed could be litigated in court date from 1958 to 1985 -- all of them, that is, before the time Mahony became archbishop. Therefore, none of the allegations that would be scrutinized in a public trial involve decisions for which Mahony was personally responsible. There will be big bucks to pay, of course, but we have the assurance of the Archdiocese's explicit hope that their insurers will, after all, do the right thing and pony up. And if they don't, well, whose fault is that?

A man less easily moved by episcopal suasion than your Uncle Di might reckon that this is the twofer the Archdiocese is trying to pull off:

1) The abuse that occurred on Mahony's watch (post-1985) will be settled, for cash, out of court. That means no trial, hence no senior ecclesiastics in the witness box, hence no consequent arraignment for complicity or perjury, hence no jail time for You Know Who.

2) The abuse that occurred before Mahony's time (pre-1985) will go to trial -- by an arrangement in which nine of the 44 select cases are agreed upon -- and whatever hit the Archdiocese takes will be financial. That means no senior ecclesiastics in the witness box (the relevant ones are dead), hence no consequent arraignment for complicity or perjury, hence no jail time for You Know Who.

The 560 as-yet-unresolved accusations will oblige the faithful to untrouser multiple millions, obviously. But isn't that a small price to pay, after all, for the privilege of a Pastor fearless in defense of the most precious and vulnerable truths of our Catholic faith?

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