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Records of sexual abuse by San Diego priests to be released Sunday

October 24, 2010 |  1:59 pm

After a wait of three years, documents detailing the sexual abuse by San Diego Catholic priests that led to a $198.1-million settlement with victims are set to be released Sunday afternoon.

A San Diego County Superior Court judge late Friday ordered the release of the documents.

“These documents show how it happened,” said attorney Anthony De Marco, who represented victims. “They help give insight into how such travesty can occur on such a large scale … placing the institution above protecting children. … I think to ever remedy a problem, you have to understand it.”

In San Diego, as in other dioceses with abuse allegations, victims and their families alleged that even after they complained of the maltreatment, nothing was done, and in some cases, the priests were merely transferred.

The release of information is set for Sunday afternoon and will be posted online by the attorneys.

In September 2007, after years of negotiations and courtroom skirmishes, the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego announced a $198.1-million settlement with 144 sexual abuse victims. One condition of the settlement is that diocese records about the priests and allegations be released.

In February of that year, the diocese filed for protection in Bankruptcy Court on the eve of the first abuse case going to trial. The bankruptcy filing put the court cases on hold.

But the bankruptcy judge proved unsympathetic to the argument by diocese lawyers that paying settlements could devastate the church’s ability to carry out its spiritual and social-service missions. Among other things, the judge said the diocese’s financial recordkeeping was byzantine and its settlement offers far below what other dioceses were making in similar abuse cases.

The settlement called for the diocese to pay $77 million and its insurance carrier $75 million to settle 111 cases. Religious orders would pay $30 million for 22 cases. The Diocese of San Bernardino, once part of the San Diego Diocese, would pay $15 million for 11 cases.

On the day the settlement was announced, San Diego Diocese Bishop Robert Brom issued a written statement restating an earlier apology to abuse victims: “I am very, very sorry for the suffering we have caused them, and I pray that they will walk with God for a renewed life.”

The diocese, soon after filing for bankruptcy, released the names of 38 priests whom it said were the subject of “credible allegations.” None was still active in the church; some had long since died.

In San Diego, as in other dioceses, victims alleged that even after they complained of the maltreatment, nothing was done and, in some cases, the priests were merely transferred.

Covering San Diego and Imperial counties, the San Diego Diocese has 99 parishes, 274 priests and a Catholic population of nearly 1 million. Soon after the 2007 settlement, Brom appealed to parishioners to increase their contributions to the church to help pay the settlement.

 -- Tony Perry and Carla Hall