January 6, 2010 in City

Diocese appeals bankruptcy court rulings

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Catholic Diocese of Spokane has appealed a recent series of bankruptcy court rulings that could cost it millions of dollars more.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams last month affirmed the powers of a court-appointed reviewer who weighs the merits of clergy sex abuse claims and determines cash awards to victims. Williams rejected diocese motions to seal court records and then challenge the reviewer’s decisions in an attempt to unwind recent cash awards to some sex abuse victims.

Diocese officials contend the claims reviewer, Kate Pflaumer, a former U.S. attorney for Western Washington, made mistakes and acted outside the scope of her authority by rewarding claims that should have been deemed technically invalid and others that are perhaps scurrilous. At stake is possibly millions more dollars that the diocese may have to collect from parishioners or borrow to settle these new allegations, called future claims.

None of the new allegations has been made by children alleging recent abuse. Rather, they are accusations by adults who contend they were sexually abused by priests and other clergy years ago and are just now able to link that abuse to problems in their lives.

While the diocese attempted to use federal bankruptcy laws to bring an end to the sex abuse scandal by setting a deadline for victims to file claims, the $48 million settlement fashioned by all sides left a narrow opening for future claims.

Attorneys representing some of the victims said the diocese is now attempting to subvert the settlement and the authority of the reviewer – similar to an arbitrator – as the numbers of new claims exceed expectations.

More than 20 such claims have been filed. They are separate from the 184 sex abuse claims initially filed.

Diocese attorney Greg Arpin said an appeal is necessary to ensure the reviewer’s decisions can be challenged.

The appeal has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Lonny Suko.


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