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Opinion

Sat., April 14, 2007

Settlement next step in rebuilding diocese

Why do WE have to pay for this bankruptcy settlement?” some Spokane Catholics ask.

Valid question as the Catholic Diocese of Spokane seeks from parishes $10 million towards its $48 million bankruptcy reorganization settlement. The simple answer: “If not we, then who?” For many it is not that simple.

Reasons are complex, but achieving settlement is right and a step that will lead to a stronger, more financially sound diocese.

Churches are communities and members feel one another’s suffering. In the Catholic Church, abuse victims have suffered and will continue to suffer. Abusers suffer with their devils. The rest of the church suffers with the ugliness of abuse and how to make reparation.

As community we share the blame because we did nothing when we learned of abuse. Some knew and said little, if anything.

When The Spokesman-Review reported the dismissal of Father Pat O’Donnell in the mid-1980s, where was the public clamor to law enforcement? Where were the type of editorials and letters to the editor we would see now? Why wasn’t O’Donnell prosecuted?

As others, I did nothing. That mostly was the way it was 20 years ago, much less 40 or 50 years ago, as abuse was occurring. Churches, businesses, government and even law enforcement didn’t address issues as they do now. In all types of workplaces, employee ills were handled with confidentiality (“covered up” is the popular term now). In most cases, offending employees were free to move on to other places with no punishment other than discharge. In churches, leadership acted in what it thought was a healing, compassionate manner.

Again, as the community did nothing, this became a community problem, not just one for “priests, bishops and popes,” as some claim. Community, then, must heal the wounded, make reparation.

This includes those who say they didn’t harm victims, so why should they have an obligation? Community, however, pays for many abuses it had nothing to do with. Who among us was directly responsible for mistreatment of Native Americans or World War II-era Japanese Americans? Or the many other victims of societal abuse we compensate?

The church’s financial obligation follows protracted bankruptcy negotiations to resolve highly complex issues surrounding abuse claims, to reorganize diocesan financial practices and to craft protective agreements. Bankruptcy avoided a series of costly trials but was not taken to protect anyone.

When settlements are final, we will have justly compensated abuse victims as best we can.

We will have ensured the future mission of the Church as best we can.

We will have set our financial operations down a more stable path.

We will have sent a message to our clergy that we care for and support them, for they suffer from the practices of a few of their comrades and they unjustly endure finger pointing and suspicion.

We will have cleared the slate for new diocesan leadership following the nearing retirement of Bishop William Skylstad. His successor will be challenged enough to rebuild and reenergize the diocese, without this crisis.

We will have greater protection for our children, due not only to recent exposure of past clergy abuse, but owing to steps put in place when Bishop Skylstad came back to Spokane from the Yakima Diocese in 1989.

He soon set in operation policies for responding to sexual abuse allegations and inappropriate behavior by church personnel, background checks for school employees and volunteers, sexual awareness training for all diocesan employees, psychological evaluations for seminarians and other steps toward a cleaner and safer church environment. The steps appear to have been effective as there has been no credible claim of any Catholic clergy abuse being committed in this diocese from 1991 to the present.

Churches have shown great generosity in other crises. If we were struck by an earthquake, wallets would fly open to repair facilities. But, an earthquake of sorts has struck, mentally and physically damaging people, rupturing credibility and leaving many faithful out in the cold.

We must drop our grief and anger, show compassion and forgiveness, be thankful for what we have and take this opportunity to rebuild.



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