EUGENE, Ore. – About 150 people who claimed they were molested by priests have agreed to settle their lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland for an undisclosed amount.
U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan announced the agreement but would not give a dollar amount. He told reporters the archdiocese, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, could cover all current and future claims without selling off property held by parishes and schools.
The judge said the archdiocese has more than $50 million from settling litigation with insurance companies, plus sufficient real estate and other assets of its own to cover the claims.
Portland was the first archdiocese in the nation to seek protection from creditors when it went to federal bankruptcy court to head off massive lawsuits claiming sexual abuse by the late Rev. Maurice Grammond, who worked in several parishes. Other priests also were accused of abuse.
Three other dioceses – Tucson, Ariz.; Davenport, Iowa; and Spokane – also have sought bankruptcy court protection from a flood of lawsuits by people alleging sexual abuse by priests. Tucson emerged from the process in 2005.
Court records show the Portland Archdiocese has spent $15 million on legal costs in the case.
“These are expensive lessons,” Hogan said. “All of our hope is, including the archdiocese, is that they have been learned.”
The settlement still must go before a bankruptcy court judge. About 20 lawsuits remain, but Hogan said he was confident the remaining plaintiffs would accept the settlement. All parties were under a gag order.
David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who is not a party of the agreement, said in a news release that he hoped the agreement would bring healing to those who sued.
“We are grateful they had the wisdom to go to the courts and had the persistence to continue throughout this arduous process,” he said. “Kids are safer because of their courage. Every Catholic in Oregon owes these wounded but compassionate victims a debt of gratitude.”
Despite the agreement, there’s still work to be done in the archdiocese’s bankruptcy case.
Final terms of the settlement will have to be incorporated into a new reorganization plan for the archdiocese. And Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth L. Perris will have to rule that the reorganization plan is fair for all parties.
The bankruptcy case has pitted the federal courts against church law, or canon law, over the ownership of church property.
The archdiocese claimed it merely holds the property of its individual parishes in trust, and cannot sell it to satisfy any judgments. Perris, however, ruled that church property and real estate are under the control of the archdiocese, potentially allowing its sale.
Hogan said the archdiocese will be reorganized so that the parishes and schools will be legally separated.
Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States have paid an estimated $1.5 billion since 1950 to handle claims of sex abuse by priests.
Other large settlements include $100 million paid to 87 people last year by the Diocese of Orange in Orange County, Calif., $85 million paid to 552 people in 2003 by the Archdiocese of Boston and $60 million that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said earlier this month it would pay to 45 people.
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