L.A. Church Abuse Trials On Track

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A judge placed 44 child sex abuse lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles on track for trial next year following three years of unsuccessful settlement talks.

The cases are the first abuse allegations against Los Angeles priests to progress this close to a jury trial.

Monday's order by Superior Court Judge Haley Fromholz could result in the first detailed public airing of allegations that church officials shuttled around priests who were accused of molestation rather than turning them over to police or warning parishioners.

Trial could force the church to turn over documents showing how it handled alleged abusers. Cardinal Roger Mahony had vowed to settle all 562 abuse cases against diocesan personnel.

"If even one of these trials takes place, Mahony and other high-ranking church officials may finally be put under oath and forced to tell how much they knew and how little they did about clearly dangerous serial offenders," said David Clohessy, national director of the advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

The lead attorneys for the church and alleged abuse victims jointly asked Fromholz in September to move the cases toward trial. They said they had reached an impasse in settlement discussions, which they blamed on church insurers' unwillingness to participate.

"It turned out we were overly optimistic," archdiocese attorney J. Michael Hennigan said of hopes that all cases could be settled. "The insurance companies are not satisfied that they know the cases well enough."

But some plaintiffs' attorneys say it is the church that has dragged its heels in a bid to wear down the accusers and their lawyers.

"Anybody who is blaming the insurance companies are singing (Mahony's) tune," said Costa Mesa attorney John C. Manly, who represents 70 victims of alleged abuse.

Several insurers sued the archdiocese earlier this year, asking for confidential documents they claim would allow the church engaged in behavior that voided its insurance coverage.

Fromholz scheduled a status conference on that lawsuit for Tuesday.

against 126 priests that are at the core of hundreds of lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles show that church officials for decades moved accused priests between counseling and new assignments.

Attorneys for 500 alleged victims and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles had previously agreed to release the information, but lawyers for accused clergy succeeded in blocking publication, arguing it would violate priests' privacy rights. An appellate court last month ordered the documents to be released after nearly three years of legal wrangling.