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Attorneys: Molestation lawsuit settled with LA archdiocese

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 2:54 PM EDT, Wed March 13, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Archdiocese says it has "accepted responsibility" for misconduct of former priest Michael Baker
  • Four men allege they were molested as boys by Baker dating back to the 1970s
  • The four men sue the Los Angeles Archdiocese and Cardinal Roger Mahony
  • Mahony is in Rome as part of the cardinals' conclave voting for a new pope

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Four California men allegedly victimized in clerical sex abuse have settled their lawsuits against their former priest, the Los Angeles Archdiocese and Cardinal Roger Mahony for almost $10 million, their attorneys said Tuesday.

The priest, no longer in the clergy, abused the boys on several occasions dating back to the 1970s, including during overnight trips to San Diego and Riverside counties, the attorneys said.

The priest pleaded guilty to molesting boys in 2007 and was released in 2011 with credit for time served, the attorneys said.

Four civil lawsuits were filed separately by two brothers and two other people, and the plaintiffs reached a settlement this month with the church and Mahony, said attorney Vince Finaldi of Irvine, California.

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None of the plaintiffs was a victim in the criminal case against the priest, but a third brother of the two sibling plaintiffs was a victim, Finaldi said.

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J. Michael Hennigan, an attorney for the archdiocese, confirmed the settlement of $9.9 million with the four men who alleged the former priest, Michael Baker, was their abuser.

"We accepted responsibility for all of Michael Baker's misconduct, and the issue with respect to these cases was trying to find an acceptable number to resolve the cases," Hennigan told CNN.

Baker couldn't be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.

He and Mahony are identified as defendants in one of the lawsuits, Finaldi said. Though the other three lawsuits don't list Baker and Mahony as defendants, Finaldi said they are indeed defendants.

Under California procedural requirements, defendants are not listed by name in suits filed by sex abuse plaintiffs older than age 26, Finaldi said.

Mahony is in Rome as part of the cardinals' conclave voting for a new pope. None of the 115 cardinals is reachable during that voting process.

Early Tuesday morning, Mahony sent out his last pre-conclave message on his Twitter account before he and the other cardinals took an oath of secrecy in the Sistine Chapel. The cardinals reside at Casa Santa Martha in the Vatican during the conclave.

"Last tweet before moving to Casa Santa Martha, and Mass to Elect a Pope. First Conclave meeting late Tuesday afternoon. Prayers needed," Mahony wrote.

Tod Tamberg, an archdiocese representative with Mahony in Rome, referred all inquiries to Hennigan.

The four lawsuits alleged that Mahony knew of Baker's sexual abuse of boys and allowed him to continue to serve as a priest, Finaldi said.

Baker's files as a priest were among the 12,000 pages of documents that the archdiocese released earlier this year about how it handled allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

"Those files show that they knew exactly who Baker was and what he was doing," Finaldi said.

The lawsuits filed by the two brothers were scheduled for trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court on April 9, but then a settlement was reached, Finaldi said.

The plaintiffs' attorneys have scheduled a Los Angeles news conference on Thursday during which one of the plaintiffs will publicly identify himself and make a statement, Finaldi said. Each plaintiff is identified as a "John Doe" with different middle initials in the lawsuits.

The four settlements range from $995,000 to $4 million, the attorneys said. The settlements total $9,990,000, the attorneys said in a statement.

CNN's Richard Greene in Rome and Erica Henry contributed to this report.

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