SANTA ANA (AP) — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange settled a clergy abuse lawsuit for $2 million on the day of trial, an attorney for the plaintiff said Tuesday.
The settlement was reached at 9:30 p.m. Monday after hours of negotiations, attorney Vince Finaldi said.
It resolves a civil lawsuit filed by a 41-year-old decorated Air Force combat pilot who alleged that former Monsignor Michael Harris molested him in 1986, when he was a student at Mater Dei Catholic High School and Harris was principal there.
Harris’ attorney, James Ingram, did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Harris has never been charged criminally and denies the allegations.
He was part of a $5.2 million settlement in 2001 that the Los Angeles and Orange dioceses made with another of his accusers, a former student at Santa Margarita Catholic High School, where Harris worked after he left Mater Dei. Harris was defrocked as a condition of that settlement, Finaldi said.
In 2004, the Diocese of Orange agreed to settle nearly 90 clergy abuse lawsuits for $100 million. Nine claims against Harris were included in that settlement and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles listed 12 accusers of Harris in a report on clergy sexual abuse that same year.
A spokesman for the diocese, Stephen Bohannon, confirmed Monday’s settlement but had no further comment.
The settlement was unusually large considering the plaintiff was molested once and the abuse occurred so many years ago, Finaldi said. The man is now a lieutenant colonel and KC-10 pilot who has flown combat missions over Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East and Europe.
“It’s a very big settlement. The abuser was very notorious and the plaintiff was so strong. He had no drug history, no criminal history … and he’s still in the military,” he said.
In court papers, the plaintiff in the current case alleges Harris called him into his office to commend him for chasing and subduing a thief who had snatched a woman’s purse outside a grocery store.
During the hourlong meeting, Harris gave the 16-year-old ROTC student a rosary and a small statue and then forced him to have oral sex, Finaldi said.
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