The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has agreed to an $8 million settlement with a teenager who was sexually abused by a teacher at an all-girls Catholic school in 2016.
The settlement is the largest amount the Los Angeles Archdiocese has ever agreed to pay a single victim of sexual abuse, the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday, and possibly the largest per-survivor award ever paid by a U.S. Catholic diocese.
The perpetrator, Juan Ivan Barajas, was an athletic director and health teacher at San Gabriel Mission High School, according to the LA Times. The victim’s lawyers said that Barajas began targeting the girl in April 2016, when she was a 15-year-old freshman. When Barajas’ wife discovered evidence of abuse on his cellphone in July 2016, he kidnapped the teen and took her to Las Vegas.
After five days on the run, Barajas was arrested by police. He later pleaded guilty to felony statutory sexual seduction and was sentenced to six years in prison.
The victim’s lawyers contend that even before Barajas began targeting their client, the high school and the archdiocese had received numerous complaints about his inappropriate behavior with minor female students. Some of those complaints from coaches and parents stretched back to the 2014-2015 school year, the lawyers said.
On Tuesday, the archdiocese said it recognized the “serious harm” done to the teenager and hoped the settlement would allow her to “heal and move forward with her education and lifetime goals.”
“The Archdiocese apologizes for the impact that this caused in her life,” the organization said in a statement sent to HuffPost.
Most of the sex abuse cases that have rocked the American Catholic church in recent years concern abuse that allegedly happened decades ago, long before The Boston Globe’s team began reporting on the crisis in 2002. That year, U.S. bishops created the Dallas Charter, which sets guidelines for preventing child abuse, cooperating with civil authorities and disciplining offenders. The charter has been updated several times since it was first approved in June 2002.
As the global Catholic church faces an ongoing reckoning, many dioceses have stepped up to acknowledge survivors’ pain ― while insisting that they now have policies in place to ensure that children are safe.
However, the fact that Barajas was able to prey on a teenager at a Catholic school in 2016 has raised concerns among other survivors and advocates.
“It is astounding this abuse was allowed to occur given all the training and procedures the archdiocese claims it has put in place since the priest-abuse scandals of the early 2000s,” David Ring, an attorney for the San Gabriel survivor, told the LA Times.
Archdiocese spokesperson Adrian M. Alarcon told HuffPost that Barajas “had not been fully respectful of school policies.”
“Those matters were investigated and there was no evidence of sexual misconduct involving students or violation of the Charter. He was counseled according to Archdiocesan policies,” Alarcon wrote in an email.
Over the past 15 years, the Los Angeles Archdiocese has paid out more than $740 million in sexual abuse settlements, according to the LA Times. In 2007, it agreed to a $660 million settlement with 508 survivors of sexual abuse. That amount remains by far the largest total ever handed out by a U.S. Catholic diocese, according to Bishop Accountability, a website that has spent years tracking the church’s clerical abuse scandal.
In 2001, the Los Angeles and Orange dioceses agreed to pay $5.2 million to a man who said he was abused by a prominent Orange County priest.
In another large settlement in 2007, the Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York awarded two survivors raped by a Catholic youth minister a total of $11.45 million, with about $5.5 million going to each individual victim.
Terence McKiernan, Bishop Accountability’s founder, told HuffPost that to his knowledge, Tuesday’s settlement is the largest award to an individual survivor that an American Catholic archdiocese has ever agreed to.
McKiernan said it was concerning to him that earlier warnings and complaints about Barajas didn’t prevent the teacher from abusing the teenager in this case.
“This case and many others nationwide show that the 2002 Charter and Norms haven’t ‘solved’ the abuse and enabling problem in U.S. Catholic culture,” McKiernan said.