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Calif. church-sex settlement worth $100-million

A judge Monday unsealed the details of a record $100-million settlement with a Southern California diocese over sex abuse allegations against clergy.

The settlement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange marks the single largest clergy abuse settlement to date. The Archdiocese of Boston agreed to pay $85-million to 552 plaintiffs in 2002.

"Let this be what everyone remembers from today: that nothing is more important than the protection of our children and our youth," Bishop Tod D. Brown said at a news conference, sitting alongside the plaintiffs and their lawyers. "I seek their forgiveness, I hope for reconciliation and I know that they have now begun their healing process."

The settlement came Dec. 2 after nearly two years of negotiations; it was placed under a court seal while the parties signed off.

Payouts were based on the length and severity of abuse and other factors, but how much each plaintiff is getting remains confidential. Half of the payout will come from the diocese and the other half will be paid by its eight insurance carriers.

The settlement resolves 90 lawsuits against the diocese that included allegations against 31 priests, 10 lay personnel, one religious brother and two nuns. The earliest allegation dated to 1936; the latest came in 1996.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles faces more than 500 lawsuits that are still locked in settlement negotiations. Trial dates for a handful of those cases are expected to be set Friday.

Terrorism ruled out

in laser incident

NASHVILLE, Tenn. _ A laser beam aimed at a Chicago-bound jet may have been a prank, FBI officials said Monday, adding that terrorism has been ruled out.

The flight crew of a United Airlines flight to O'Hare International Airport from Nashville reported seeing a green laser beam Sunday night shortly after the plane took off, said Lynne Lowrance of the Nashville International Airport.

The flight, which had about 30 people on board, landed safely in Chicago. The airport property was canvassed and nothing suspicious was found.

"We know that there wasn't any terrorism involved and it possibly could have been someone playing a prank," said Doug Riggins of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

5 indicted in housing

development fires

GREENBELT, Md. _ Five men accused of setting fire to homes under construction in an upscale development outside Washington have been indicted on federal charges, prosecutors said Monday.

The Dec. 6 fires destroyed 10 houses and damaged 16 others in the Hunters Brooke development. Losses were estimated at $10-million.

Interim U.S. Attorney Allen Loucks said a grand jury had indicted Aaron Speed, 21; Patrick Walsh, 20; Jeremy Parady, 20; Michael Everhart, 20; and Roy McCann, 22. All were charged with arson, conspiracy to commit arson, and aiding and abetting the arsons.

Loucks' declaration included no information about a motive.

Young mayor leaves

post in Pa.

PITTSBURGH _ One of the nation's youngest mayors has resigned three years into his four-year term to pursue opportunities outside Pennsylvania.

Chris Portman, who was 19 when he took office in Mercer, Pa., three years ago, announced his resignation in a letter dated Dec. 28. He didn't say why he was leaving. The Town Council will appoint a replacement.

Portman's election drew the national spotlight to Mercer, a borough of 2,400 people about 55 miles north of Pittsburgh. He met financier Donald Trump and President Bush, and was featured in Rolling Stone magazine and on MTV.

But the attention eventually died down, and Portman missed most council meetings the past year. He also squabbled with the council over his insistence on riding with police officers and an MTV documentary crew that followed him around town.

Portman's job was largely ceremonial. The mayor can't make policy and can't vote during council meetings unless there's a tie. Most of the position's power lies in enforcing ordinances and overseeing the town's handful of police.

Portman could not be reached for comment. In February he said, "I'm not saying I haven't made mistakes. . . . But I have done nothing to put the borough at risk. I was elected by the people. It is the people who really need to rate and evaluate my performance."