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Los Angeles Archdiocese Agrees to $8M Settlement Over Catholic School Student’s Abuse

Allan M. Siegel

The Los Angeles Archdiocese has agreed to pay an $8 million settlement to a now 18-year-old teen who was sexually abused by a teacher at San Gabriel Mission High School while she was a minor.

The settlement is the largest the L.A. Archdiocese has ever paid to a single abuse victim, and may be the largest individual sex abuse survivor award ever paid by an American Catholic Diocese.

About the Case

The settlement stems from events involving a female student who attended San Gabriel Mission High, an all-girls Catholic school in Los Angeles County’s San Gabriel Valley. According to court records, the victim had been targeted as a 15-year-old freshman by Juan Ivan Barajas, who served as both the school’s athletic director and a health teacher.

In July 2016, after Barajas’ wife discovered evidence of his abuse on a cell phone, Barajas kidnapped the girl and went on the run for several days. He later plead guilty to felony statutory sexual seduction, and was sentenced to 6 years in prison.

In the complaint filed by the teen’s attorneys, it was alleged the school and the archdiocese had failed to address a string of complaints about Barajas’ behavior. Those complaints date back to before Barajas began targeting the teen he later kidnapped, with records of parents and coaches reporting his inappropriate behavior with underage students in the 2014-2015 school year.

On Tuesday, April 16, The Los Angeles Archdiocese issued a statement recognizing the “serious harm” suffered by the teen, and that it hoped the settlement would help her move forward. In a statement sent to the HuffPost, it apologized for the impact the events caused in her life.

A History of Sex Abuse Allegations. A Story of Failures.

The Catholic Church has been embroiled in a constant barrage of lawsuits and allegations involving sexual abuse. That includes sex abuse of minors by Priests, teachers, and other members which Church officials failed to prevent, and at times worked to actively conceal.

Though the Church has faced these types of complaints for many years, new information provided by investigations around the country, as well as growing support for survivors amid the #MeToo movement, have propelled more and more claims into the spotlight. The blowback also compelled U.S. Bishops to create and amend the Dallas Charter, a set of procedures for preventing child abuse, and for many diocese to publicly acknowledge the pain survivors and their families so often suffer.

Still, the recent settlement shows that in the years since its creation of guidelines like the Dallas Charter, the Catholic Church has failed to put a lid on Priest abuse scandals and the abuse of children. It’s a reminder that while progress is being made, the need for more remains.

Catholic Church Sex Abuse Settlements: Justice for Survivors

In the past 15 years alone, the Los Angeles Archdiocese has paid more than $740 million in sex abuse settlements to abuse survivors, the L.A. Times reports. Most of that came from a settlement reached in 2007 – a $660 million payout to over 500 abuse victims . It remains the largest total settlement ever paid by any Catholic diocese in the United States.

Los Angeles is not the only U.S. diocese to face large payouts and troubling revelations. In September of last year, the Brooklyn Catholic diocese paid $27.5M to settle a lawsuit filed by four adult survivors abused as minors, which at the time was the second-largest individual sum paid.

Today, the Church continues to face its reckoning with continual press and scrutiny involving sexual abuse, including:

  • Numerous civil sexual abuse lawsuits filed by minors and their parents / families, as well as adults who were abused as children;
  • Major investigations in jurisdictions across the country, including investigations launched by the Attorney Generals of D.C. and Virginia;
  • Groundbreaking releases of internal records and names of former priests credibly accused of child sex abuse, including the infamous Pennsylvania grand jury report in 2018 which identified more than 1,000 victims abused over a 70+ year period;
  • High-profile resignations of Church leaders, including DC Archbishop Theodore McCarrick; and
  • Criminal arrests, including the recent arrest of Urbano Perez, a Catholic Priest from Columbia Heights / Mount Pleasant.

As investigations in DC and Virginia continue, and new laws like the DC Sexual Abuse Amendment Act provide more opportunities and support for survivors to step forward, Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. is standing by to help victims and families better understand their legal rights when they choose to pursue civil sexual abuse lawsuits over Catholic Church abuse or any other abuse / assault. Our firm has extensive experience with sexual abuse cases involving schools, religious institutions, and powerful individuals.

If you have questions or would like to learn how we can provide guidance through your legal journey while maintaining confidentiality and fighting for the justice and compensation you deserve, contact us to speak with an attorney. CSCS serves clients across Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.