A federal bankruptcy judge will decide next month whether the Catholic Diocese of Spokane can seek to overturn cash awards to alleged victims of clergy sex abuse.
The diocese is upset about several decisions by a court-appointed claims reviewer responsible for weighing the merits of sex abuse claims and then deciding how much money should be paid.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams said during a hearing Wednesday she was unsure if the complex settlement plan approved two years ago by the diocese and victims allows her to reverse decisions made by the reviewer, Kate Pflaumer, a former U.S. attorney for Western Washington.
The diocese filed for bankruptcy in an effort to manage an avalanche of clergy sex abuse claims that totaled 184.
After 2 ½ years of legal wrangling it agreed to pay a $48 million settlement – including $10 million collected from parishioners. The deal forced the diocese to liquidate nearly all of its assets, including the bishop’s home, the Chancery along West Riverside Avenue, parcels of farmland and other holdings. But the settlement didn’t shut the door on new allegations, called “future claims.”
These are typically made by victims with repressed memories or those who didn’t link their abuse by clergy to financial and emotional difficulties in their lives until long after the bankruptcy was filed.
The diocese anticipated there may be a few such cases over many years. Instead there have been 21 within two years.
The surprisingly high number of these new “future claims” could cost the diocese and its parishioners more money.
In a letter to churchgoers last Sunday, Bishop William Skylstad discussed these future claims and said some parish property that was pledged as collateral for the settlement could be at risk.
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