The head of the largest diocese in the United States has been cleared of allegations that he molested a woman when she was a teenager more than 30 years ago. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles had been accused of having sexually assaulted Flora Hickman, in 1969. The cardinal himself made the charges public last week and asked for investigations by both police and the church. Police have now dismissed the case saying they have found no evidence of a crime. The news will come as a relief to the American church which in the past few months has been rocked by a series of sexual abuse accusations. According to America magazine this week, church authorities could have to pay out up to $1bn in court settlements. In addition to multi-million dollar law suits, it is feared some Catholics may now withhold donations to the church. Many insurance companies, who used to offer the Church cover for claims of sexual abuse, are said to be no longer prepared to take the risk. The Archdiocese of Boston alone is facing costs estimated at $100m, and new cases are emerging across the country. The magazine warns that if church assets have to be liquidated to settle claims, there will be less money for scholarships, parish schools, soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless. "Multi-million dollar awards, like the boycotting of diocesan collections, punish the wrong people," it argues in its editorial. "Big jury awards make sense as a way to punish profit-making businesses, but they are a very blunt instrument for dealing with non-profit organizations, which have no stockholders. "The church is not just the bishops, it is the people in the pews. There are no deep pockets with unlimited funds. Churches depend on the small weekly contributions from their congregations. "Punishing the church means punishing the people of God and those they serve. Justice demands that we find another way."
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