July 17, 2007

Two-Thirds Of A Billion Dollars

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles won judicial approval yesterday for a settlement of $660 million to be spread out amongst 508 plaintiffs who claimed they had been raped by priests as children.  Note that I use the term “rape” rather than the somewhat more clinical “sexual abuse.”  “Rape” is exactly what happened to these children, mostly boys, at the hands of 247 trusted parish priests.  The Archdiocese is responsible because, allegedly, it knew of these priests’ propensities to do this sort of thing but nevertheless put them in positions where they would have close, unsupervised contact with children.


Let’s get a few misunderstandings out of the way here.  First – Catholic priests are no more likely than any other segment of adults to rape children, right?  An interesting question; to understand what’s going on here involves getting into the minds of the rapists to some degree, which is a distasteful although illuminating process.  It is widely thought that men who suffered molestation themselves as children, once in a position of power and maturity, will act out on the psychological trauma of the rape by becoming rapists themselves.  Does the priesthood attract a disproportionate number of former child rape victims?  Do the kinds of men who want to do those sorts of acts put themselves through seminaries in order to gain access to their victims, or do they have other, less onerous means at their disposal to realize their criminal goals?  I have no way of answering that question.


I do have a strong understanding that a great many priests are gay – back in the day, society was less tolerant of gay men, and it used to be that this was one sort of job that a man could be both unmarried and in the constant company of a bunch of other men with a powerful “cover story’ to provide a (thin) veneer for their homosexuality as well as providing a socially positive role in society.  But this isn’t about men who have consensual sex with other men, whether wearing Roman collars or not – it’s about men who rape children, and that’s a different sort of thing entirely.  In any event, we’re looking at 247 priests raping 508 children, which averages out to just over two victims


Second, I must make the mandatory caveat that the vast, overwhelming majority of Catholic priests are not child rapists and have entered the priesthood because of sincere religious faith, sincere desire to help peoples’ lives get better, and a sincere desire to encourage people to make good moral choices.  Their desires are no different than the impulses that make Protestants want to become ministers or Jews want to become rabbis or Muslims want to become imams.  Catholicism does not cause child rape.  Criminals do.  There are some priests who are very bad people, true, but there are some lawyers, some doctors, some accountants, some truck drivers, and every other profession you can think of, who are also bad people.  This sort of thing happening in the church is interesting and saddening not because it forces us to learn that there are bad people out there.  Rather, it is interesting and saddening because it takes away a place of refuge from that badness – even within the Church, a place many people look for safety and moral guidance, one must be aware of the possibility of wrongdoers – both the rapists themselves and the people in charge of them who covered up and enabled their crimes rather than confronting and calling out their misdeeds.


Finally, this is a lot of money – an average of nearly $1.3 million to each plaintiff.  If, as Steve Lopez argues in today’s Fish Wrapper, this settlement was reached to prevent Cardinal Mahoney from having to testify about his involvement in the massively sordid affair, that’s a LOT of hush money, and I can’t imagine any CEO (and that’s what Mahoney really is) approving more than half a billion dollars to be paid out simply to avoid personal embarrassment, no matter how severe.  You authorize that kind of payment of money for one reason only – because not authorizing it creates a substantial risk of losing even more.  At that level, it’s about cutting financial losses and nothing more.  I notice that it was paid right before four of these cases were ready to go to trial, and my experience is that settlements happen most frequently – and at a price dearest to defendants – on the eve of trial.  Smart plaintiffs push the case right up to the edge in order to maximize their recovery.  That’s what I think has really happened here – some smart lawyers knew what they had on their hands and pushed as hard as they could, for as far as they could, to get as much as they could.  That, after all, is what litigation is all about.

1 comment:

zzi said...

I'm about 50 times "madder" about this that you are; dig the fish wrap reference.