On Monday, an unprecedented event of enormous significance happened in a courtroom at the Los Angeles Superior Court. Cardinal Roger Mahony signed a historic $660-million settlement with more than 500 plaintiffs who alleged that they had suffered sexual abuse in the hands of Roman Catholic priests who served parishes that come under the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
We heard the sound bytes on radio. We read pages and pages of analysis in newspapers and on the Internet in the days leading to the formalizing of this agreement. We saw powerful reactions from victims on television. Hallelujah! We even heard an apology from Cardinal Mahony to the victims who have undergone nothing short of psychological and emotional torture for years if not decades and suffered in silence for most of that time.
The settlement is the largest payout by a diocese, says a news article in the Los Angeles Times’ Web site. But the victims who fought the Roman Catholic Church for five years will tell you that no amount of money or apologies can right the horrendous wrongs these men have done to innocent little children as well as women who trusted and respected these so-called spiritual leaders. But the money is the lowest penalty the diocese can pay to compensate the victims for what they have suffered, the memories and effects of which they will continue to suffer for the rest of their lives.
Yet, the biggest implication of this settlement, far more valuable than the money is the fact that it is a vindication for the victims. It is an admission by the Roman Catholic Church of their wrongdoing. It is confirmation, as one of the attorneys for the victims said, that “they did nothing wrong – it was not their fault.”
Having represented victims of clergy abuse, I know very well that many victims blame themselves for the abuse they endured – and that’s what tortures them and eats them up from within. It’s that sense of guilt that results in their silent suffering, the hiding from the truth, the shame of it all. In many media interviews over the last two days, I heard victims say the same as our clients have said, that the abuse completely messed up their lives; that they became alcoholics, resorted to drug abuse and struggled to come to terms with their sexual identity. Most victims had failed marriages. How does anybody put a price on this type of suffering?
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