December 29, 2007 in City

Parishes collect $8 million

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Eastern Washington’s Catholic community has raised most of the money needed to settle the clergy childhood sex abuse cases, surpassing expectations and ensuring that the diocese will emerge from bankruptcy.

“This could have been very divisive,” said Robert Hailey, of the Association of Parishes. “But in the end this was a fundraiser that brought people together. We’re overwhelmed by their generosity.”

Parishes have collected $8 million of the $10 million pledged.

The money is helping to pay for the overall $48 million settlement needed to end the bankruptcy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane. The rest comes from the sale of diocese property and insurance payments, among other sources.

The campaign is unlike any in Spokane history, and stands alone in the United States as the only bankruptcy or legal settlement that collected cash from the pockets of parishioners. In other diocese settlements around the country, the money came from investment funds or other financial means without depending on new money from the pews.

Hailey said donations came from every corner of the diocese, which includes 82 parishes in 13 counties.

“We were getting $100, $500 and $1,000 at a time from people at all parishes,” he said. “It’s was truly made possible by the gifts of many.”

The parishes were able to borrow the remaining $2 million from Spokane-based AmericanWest Bank. The loan is a five-year note at 7.15 percent interest. More than a dozen parishes signed promissory notes to secure the loan.

The successful campaign also enables the independent trust established to receive the money to finish disbursing payments to victims early – in February instead of October 2009, according to court records filed Friday afternoon.

“Hopefully, the timely payment of the victims’ claims will provide at least some measure of finality for them and the beginning of healing for everyone involved,” said diocese attorney Shaun Cross.

There were 176 people who filed sex abuse claims against the diocese. About 36 settled their cases. The remaining 140 agreed to participate in a claim-handling apparatus that attempted to discern the truth of the claims and assign each a cash value.

While the framework of this claims matrix was public, its findings are being kept secret, including how many of the 140 claims were found to have merit and the severity of the sex abuse.

The diocese has so far publicly acknowledged the names of 28 clergy who admitted or have been credibly accused of pedophilia. Of those, 17 are deceased.

On its Web site, the diocese lists 10 who were diocesan priests; 14 Jesuits; two Franciscan clergy; one Benedictine clergy; and one Marianist clergy. The settlement calls for the names of other suspected priests to remain confidential unless the victim asks for the name to be made public.

Cross said the settlement would erase any remaining legal liabilities of the diocese, including 19 lawsuits that had been suspended during the bankruptcy, filed in December 2004.

The only remaining issue is future claims of sex abuse against clergy, which may be made by adult victims able to show they lacked the mental acuity to file a bankruptcy claim in a timely manner, or by sexually abused children who have not yet reported incidents.

Victims may continue to press lawsuits against the individual priests and Catholic organizations – including the Jesuits.

For the diocese, full funding of the settlement should end years of tumult.

“The fact the diocese and parishes have fully performed all of their obligations under the plan is a tribute to all the hard work and tremendous sacrifice of literally thousands of individuals,” Cross said.

Parish contributions exceeded the expectations of professional fundraisers who feared parishioners would balk, sickened by the sex abuse scandal and outraged by the approximately $8 million in legal fees.

In the end, Cross said, it was a grassroots effort run by parishioners and priests.

“People came together because we needed to do it,” Hailey said. “The message we took to the people was this: We must make the sacrifice for someone else’s wrongs.

“God’s idea of fairness is not always the same as yours and mine.”


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