The following comes from a February 10 Los Angeles Times story reprinted in the Sacramento Bee.

Pressed to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars to settle clergy sex abuse lawsuits, Cardinal Roger Mahony turned to one group of Catholics whose faith could not be shaken: the dead.

Under his leadership in 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles quietly appropriated $115 million from a cemetery maintenance fund and used it to help pay a landmark settlement with molestation victims.

The church did not inform relatives of the deceased that it had taken the money, which amounted to 88 percent of the fund. Families of those buried in church-owned cemeteries and interred in its mausoleums have contributed to a dedicated account for the perpetual care of graves, crypts and grounds since the 1890s.

Mahony and other church officials also did not mention the cemetery fund in numerous public statements about how the archdiocese planned to cover the $660-million abuse settlement. In detailed presentations to parish groups, the cardinal and his aides said they had cashed in substantial investments to pay the settlement, but they did not disclose that the main asset liquidated was cemetery money.

In response to questions from the Los Angeles Times, the archdiocese acknowledged using the maintenance account to help settle abuse claims. It said in a statement that the appropriation had “no effect” on cemetery upkeep and enabled the archdiocese “to protect the assets of our parishes, schools and essential ministries.”

Under cemetery contracts, 15 percent of burial bills are paid into an account the archdiocese is required to maintain for what church financial records describe as “the general care and maintenance of cemetery properties in perpetuity.”

Day-to-day upkeep at the archdiocese’s 11 cemeteries and its cathedral mausoleum is financed by cemetery sales revenue separate from the 15 percent deposited into the fund, spokeswoman Carolina Guevara said. Based on actuarial predictions, it would be at least 187 years before cemeteries are fully occupied and the church started to draw on the maintenance account, she said.

“We estimate that Perpetual Care funds will not be needed until after the year 2200,” Guevara wrote in an e-mail.
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