PORTLAND – The Archdiocese of Portland, the first in the nation to file for bankruptcy in the face of mounting sex abuse claims, began running ads in major U.S. newspapers this week alerting priest abuse victims that their time to file a claim against the diocese is running out.
The $250,000 ad campaign, required as part of the bankruptcy proceeding, asks any alleged victims who have not yet come forward to file a complaint naming their abuser by April 29.
Over the next three weeks, the ads will run three times in 21 newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, as well as major newspapers in Washington, Idaho, California and Montana, plus five Roman Catholic publications.
Advocates for victims say the deadlines are unreasonable.
“No one would tell a grieving widow to come forward within four months – and no one can tell a rape victim to come forward within four months,” said Barbara Blaine, the president and founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
“It’s an arbitrary deadline that only meets the needs of church leaders – and doesn’t help victims.”
Archdiocese spokesman Bud Bunce said the church is doing everything it can to reach potential claimants but says a deadline is necessary to enable the bankruptcy court to begin dividing the archdiocese’s assets.
“This is a normal part of the bankruptcy procedure,” said Bunce.
In addition to the newspaper advertisements, a letter in English, Spanish and Vietnamese about the deadline has been mailed to more than 81,000 registered Oregon parishioners and roughly 11,000 alumni of the archdiocese’s two Catholic high schools.
“You must act now to preserve your right,” the ad reads. “If you have a claim and do not file a proof of claim by that date, your claim may be discharged. If your claim is discharged, you will be forever prevented from asserting your claim against the Archdiocese.”
A deadline for claimants was also set by the Archdiocese of Tucson, which filed for Chapter 11 protection last September, two months after Portland did on July 6. Their $75,000 ad campaign ran last November for two weeks in 58 publications.
Meanwhile, the Spokane diocese, the most recent to file for Chapter 11 protection, will publicize its deadline through ads and other announcements, said diocese spokesman the Rev. Steven Dublinski.
“The key concern of all three dioceses is that we want to reach out to those that have been harmed and make sure they receive fair, just and equitable compensation for what happened,” he said.
But victims’ advocates argue that a deadline is pointless in light of the fact that it often takes years for victims to break their silence – sometimes decades, or never at all.
“I think that many, many, many survivors never come forward. Ever,” said Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea, who is the executive director of the Trauma Treatment Center at the Manhattan Institute of Psychoanalysis in New York.
While the majority of victims will have to come forward by the April deadline, the bankruptcy court in Portland has agreed to make an exception for any claims from children and any from adults who suffer from repressed memory, or who have not yet acknowledged the link between the alleged abuse as children and later mental health problems such as alcoholism or drug addiction.
The Portland archdiocese currently faces $534 million in pending claims from 72 individual plaintiffs who have named a total of 37 priests, according to court filings.
Kennedy estimates the true number of victims – if all of those affected were to come forward – would swell by several hundred.