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Diocese seeks to sell trust fund

To help fund a potential $45.75 million settlement offer to victims of clergy sexual abuse, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane has turned to Catholic Charities for help.

On Friday, Bishop William Skylstad formally asked the agency to spend $2 million on a trust fund – one that the diocese won’t own until 2008 but is expected to double in value in less than two years.

Because of its nonprofit status, it would be against the law for Catholic Charities to give money to the diocese, said Rob McCann, executive director of the area’s largest faith-based charity. Catholic Charities also isn’t allowed to use donations for any other purpose except to help the poor.

The purchase of this trust fund, however, may be possible because it’s similar to a loan with interest. “We’re not misusing money here,” explained McCann. “We’re buying an asset. In essence, we’re doubling the money for the poor in Spokane.”

During a press conference earlier this week, the Rev. Steve Dublinski, the diocese’s vicar general, said several Catholic entities in Spokane have been “invited to participate” in the settlement agreement, but no commitments had been made.

On Friday, McCann emphasized that Catholic Charities “has no involvement and no liability for the diocese’s current sexual abuse scandal.”

He said Catholic Charities wants to be “in solidarity” with the church, but at the same time needs to ensure its corporate separateness. It also must honor the intent of donors, who want their contributions used for the needy.

“If a loan by Catholic Charities to the diocese can be accomplished legally, ethically and transparently with respect to the assignment of the Guse Trust to Catholic Charities,” McCann noted in a written statement, “the transaction would provide substantial benefit to the 44,000-plus clients we serve each year, as well as become a chance for us to help our church family right now.”

Here’s a glance at the diocese’s proposal:

What exactly does the diocese want from Catholic Charities?

The bishop would like the nonprofit to buy the Frank J. and Adelaide Guse Charitable Trust for the Poor Persons of the Spokane Diocese, which will come into the diocese’s ownership in 2008.

What are the details of this trust?

Donated by the late Frank and Adelaide Guse of Spokane, the endowment is being held at Washington Trust Bank. Every year, income from the trust has been used by the diocese to help the poor in Eastern Washington. Projects funded by interest from this trust include the Guse Summit View, a home for 27 low-income, single-parent families that opened in 1994.

How much is the trust worth?

At least $4 million, according to McCann.

How much would Catholic Charities spend to obtain the rights to the trust?

$2 million.

Where will Catholic Charities get the money to buy it?

Donations to the annual Christmas Collection would not be used toward this deal, McCann said. Instead, $1.5 million would come from the Catholic Charities investment portfolio held in the Catholic Foundation. Another $500,000 would come from the recent sale of the old St. Anne’s property at 707 N. Cedar, which has been vacant for more than a year.

What happens now?

Before Catholic Charities can purchase the trust, it needs the approval of its 12-member board, which is scheduled to meet next month.

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