The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles will pay $13 million to settle 17 clergy abuse lawsuits, including 11 that involve a visiting Mexican priest who fled prosecution and remains a fugitive more than 25 years later, plaintiffs' attorneys said Tuesday.
The deal resolves all remaining clergy abuse lawsuits against the nation's largest archdiocese.
"We're happy to have this behind us," said J. Michael Hennigan, an archdiocese attorney.
The archdiocese settled more than 500 cases in 2007 for a record $660 million and has resolved numerous others since then, individually and in small groups.
Eleven of the plaintiffs in Tuesday's settlement allege abuse by visiting Mexican priest Nicolas Aguilar Rivera, who fled Los Angeles in January 1988 before the church notified police about parent complaints of molestation. The LAPD later determined at least 26 boys had been sexually abused by the priest during his 10-month stay in Los Angeles.
Aguilar Rivera has been a fugitive for more than two decades and was recently defrocked in absentia. He is wanted on warrants issued in the U.S. and Mexico.
The lawsuits involving Aguilar Rivera had been set to go to trial earlier this year, but the date was pushed back to allow settlement talks to proceed.
Cardinal Roger Mahony, who retired as leader of the archdiocese in 2011, would have been a key witness after giving sworn testimony in the case last year during a closed-door proceeding.
Thousands of pages of confidential files kept on Los Angeles priests accused of abuse were released last year under court order.
Those files show that Mahony and other top archdiocese officials maneuvered behind the scenes to shield accused priests and protect the church from a growing scandal while keeping parishioners in the dark. The cardinal was publicly rebuked by his successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez, after the files were publicized.
In Aguilar Rivera's case, church officials told the priest that parents had complained and that the church would have to notify police but then waited two days to do so, allowing Aguilar Rivera to flee to Mexico, court papers allege.
One memo from the confidential file on the priest shows that Mahony later ordered church officials not to turn over a list of altar boys to police who were investigating.
"We cannot give such a list for no cause whatsoever," Mahony added in a handwritten note on a memo from Jan. 26, 1988.
The archdiocese issued this statement to KPCC:
"The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has reached a $13,000,000 settlement in 17 cases of past alleged abuse, including 11 allegations concerning extern priest Nicolas Aguilar Rivera from the Diocese of Tehuacan, Mexico. Aguilar Rivera was assigned to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in March 1987. When a report of alleged abuse was made against him in January 1988, he was immediately removed from ministry. He returned to Mexico without informing the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese sent several letters to his bishop requesting that Aguilar Rivera be sent back to the United States to face justice.
"The remaining cases involve three claims alleging misconduct from 1999-2006 by John Malburg, a former teacher at Daniel Murphy High School; one case naming former priest George Miller of alleged misconduct in 1977; a case of alleged misconduct in 1980-1982 by former priest Michel Nocita; and a case of alleged misconduct in 1997 by Rene Velmonte, who has no record of serving in the Archdiocese or that he was a priest.
"It has been the desire of the Archdiocese to settle the civil cases of abuse and to provide support to the victims through the healing process. We continue to pray earnestly for all victims and their families so that they may find emotional and spiritual healing. We also reiterate our firm commitment to the protection of our children and young people."
This story has been updated.