As the Catholic Church's top clergyman select a new pope, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles elected to settle four clergy sex abuse cases involving a defrocked priest who was convicted of molestation in 2007, an attorney for the church announced on Tuesday.
The $9.99 million settlement involves cases of alleged abuse by former priest Michael Baker, according to church attorney J. Michael Hennigan.
Baker was convicted of molesting a boy in 2007. Two of the latest plaintiffs are that boy's brothers.
Two of the now-settled cases were set to go to trial soon, and a judge had said attorneys for the alleged victims could also pursue punitive damages, considered to be punishment against the defendant.
"It's a matter of vindication. Their rights are vindicated. You don't pay $10 million because nothing happened," said Vince Finaldi, one of the attorneys representing the four victims, who range in age from late 20s to early 50s.
Finaldi said the settlement will allow his clients to move forward without going to trial.
"They wanted to obtain compensation for the abuse forced on them and that helps them get the therapy they need," he said.
News of the settlement came the day the Catholic Church’s top clergymen cast their first ballots in Rome to elect the next leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics.
Among the cardinals in the papal conclave is former L.A. Archbishop Roger Mahony, whose participation in the centuries-old, secretive election has drawn the ire of Catholics – even those outside of Southern California – who say the retired cardinal should recuse himself from the sacred ritual for his role in shielding abusive priests, including Baker.
Recently released files show Baker met with Cardinal Roger Mahony in 1986 and confessed to molesting two brothers for nearly seven years.
Noting the "extremely grave and serious situation," Mahony sent Baker for psychological treatment but eventually put him back in ministry, where he molested again.
Baker returned to ministry the next year with a doctor's recommendation that he be defrocked immediately if he spent any time with minors. Despite several documented instances of being alone with boys, the priest wasn't removed from ministry until 2000. Around the same time, the church learned he was conducting baptisms without permission.
In 2007, Baker was sentenced to 10 years and four months in prison. He was released in 2011 for time served and good behavior.
In his 26-year career, Baker is alleged to have molested more than 20 children.
Calls requesting comment from the LA Archdiocese were not returned as of late Tuesday.