Settlement reached in 87 diocese abuse suits

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Deepa Bharath

Plaintiffs, attorneys and Catholic Church officials expressed relief

on Friday after a two-year legal tug-of-war between the Diocese of

Orange and victims of clergy abuse ended in a historic settlement

late Thursday night.

Terms of the settlement, which included a monetary settlement and

other agreements, were not revealed because of a court-issued gag

order. The amount of the settlement and other terms will likely be

released late next week.

As many as 800 claims were filed statewide throughout 2003 by

people who said they had been molested years ago as children. The

civil cases grew in number last year after the U.S. Supreme Court

overturned a California law that had permitted the retroactive

criminal prosecution of old child molestation cases. Thursday’s

settlement related to 87 plaintiffs who sued the Diocese of Orange,

alleging sexual abuse by clergy or lay people who were employed by

the diocese in churches or schools.

Costa Mesa-based attorney John Manly handled 27 of these cases,

including eight victims from the Newport-Mesa area. Manly’s cases

included victims who say they were abused by Daniel Murray of Our

Lady of Mount Carmel on the Balboa Peninsula; Michael Harris, former

principal of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, who used to conduct

Sunday masses at St. John the Baptist; and Donald Stevens, a

custodian at St. Joachim Catholic Church in Costa Mesa who has passed


Joelle Casteix, a Corona del Mar resident and one of Manly’s

clients, who says she was molested by a Mater Dei High School

teacher, said that her reaction to the settlement announcement as she

stood in a packed courtroom was more emotional than she thought it

would be.

“I tried hard to stay strong,” she said. “But it was like 500

pounds had been lifted off my shoulders. The tears started to flow,

and I couldn’t control it.”

The emotions in the courtroom ranged from polite smiles and silent

tears to loud sobs, Casteix said.

Shirl Giacomi, chancellor for the Diocese of Orange, said the

agreement marks the beginning of healing and reconciliation for all


“I think we want to move forward, but we won’t ever forget it,”

she said.

The diocese will strive to keep up its promise and create a safe

environment for its young people, she added.

“We are fingerprinting and conducting detailed background checks

on everyone who comes into contact with children,” Giacomi said.

That will include clergy, religious education teachers, youth

ministers and even maintenance workers, she said.

Bishop Tod Brown intends to send a letter of apology individually

addressed to each of the 87 plaintiffs, he said in a statement on


“We are ashamed that the crime of sexual abuse took place in our

church and are determined that it will not happen again,” the bishop

said. “Even after these cases are settled, all our efforts to make

our church a safer environment for all and to educate everyone about

the horror of childhood sexual abuse in our society will continue. We

owe it to those who have suffered this kind of abuse to name it for

what it is and, as far as possible, make amends.”

Casteix said that it’s the personal apology from Bishop Brown that

matters most to her.

“All these years, the one thing I’ve wanted the most was this

personal apology,” she said. “This is what is going to help me heal.”

Reconciliation, however, comes with a huge price tag, Giacomi

said. The diocese downsized its administrative staff significantly

over the last year in anticipation of the settlement, a move which

instantly sliced off $1 million from the diocese’s budget, she said.

“We still need to figure out how we’re going to pay the

plaintiffs,” she said. “But we don’t intend to sell or close down any

of our parishes. That is against canon law.”

The long-drawn settlement process heated up early this week, Manly

said. Four law firms and several other attorneys represented the

plaintiffs, he said.

“For many of our clients, this has been a 25-year ordeal,” said

Manly, a long-time Corona del Mar resident and a Catholic himself. “I

applaud the church for doing this. It’s a shame it took them as long

as it did.”

Thursday’s negotiation -- which started at 9 a.m. and ended close

to 11 p.m. -- was “the most extraordinary legal proceeding” he has

witnessed in his career, Manly said.

“But it shows that the system works,” he said.

The last two years were the toughest of his life, the attorney


“But I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said. “This wasn’t just

a job. It was a vocation.”

Casteix said for her the settlement “opened a door.”

“Now, I may actually be able to start the process of forgiving the

church,” she said. “It doesn’t restore my faith in the Catholic

Church right away. But it gives me hope that some day, it could


* DEEPA BHARATH is the enterprise and general assignment reporter.

She may be reached at (714) 966-4625 or by e-mail at