March 11, 2006 in City

Claims against diocese soaring

By The Spokesman-Review
 

at a glance

Diocese bankruptcy

Total sex-abuse claims: At least 176.

What’s next: All filed claims will be reviewed over the weekend to determine an accurate number.

Also today

Rebecca Nappi longs for the wisdom of Monsignor Oakley O’Connor. Page B3

Sex-abuse claims against the Catholic Diocese of Spokane have more than doubled since the troubled Eastern Washington church filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy 15 months ago.

The claims, 176 and counting as Friday’s deadline drew near, could cost the diocese and its 82 parishes tens of millions of dollars.

Bishop William Skylstad has already offered to settle with 75 of the claimants for $45.7 million. Though diocese attorney Greg Arpin doesn’t believe the remaining claims are as egregious as some already filed by the 75 victims included in the settlement, the final dollar amount will be determined as the bankruptcy moves toward completion.

The Association of Parishes, which represents the 82 parishes, consisting of churches and schools, worries the bankruptcy price tag will exceed $80 million.

The diocese and others initially estimated that all but perhaps a dozen victims had come forward.

“They were wrong,” said Joe Shickich, the Seattle attorney appointed to represent a class of victims who had not filed lawsuits or hired attorneys.

All along, he expected to be representing dozens of victims in the bankruptcy, based on talking with victims and specialists. As of Friday, he anticipated representing 75 or more victims.

“Psychologists will tell you that most people who have been abused do not discuss it,” Shickich said, adding the numbers shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Though the deadline passed at the end of the business day Friday, there is a possibility of even more victims.

The bankruptcy includes plans for a special class of victims who have yet to file allegations of abuse by clergy. Akin to asbestos claims in corporate bankruptcies, these still-unknown victims are referred to as future claimants. They are not bound by Friday’s deadline.

They include children who may have been abused recently or are now being abused; victims of past abuse who have repressed memories; victims who know they were abused but haven’t yet realized that the abuse is a cause of their problems; and others with reasons precluding them from filing claims before Friday.

Arpin and others will compile and review all of the filed claims over the weekend and give a more accurate number early next week.

So far at least a dozen priests – including some deceased — along with Skylstad have been accused of sexual abuse. Skylstad strongly denies the allegations contained in the claim against him.

Besides the claims filed by alleged victims of clergy sex abuse, the diocese faces other claims. Each parish, for example, filed a claim to protect its assets. Among them: St. Augustine Parish and Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral have each filed $10 million claims against the bankruptcy.


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