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  Diocese Makes $45.75 Million Settlement Offer to 75 Victims

By Deacon Eric Meisfjord
Inland Register (Spokane diocesan newspaper)
February 23, 2006

http://www.dioceseofspokane.org/Communications/IR_2006/ir022306/offer.htm

“I believe with all my heart that it is imperative that we resolve this tragic chapter in the history of our Church and that we do so now. I would ask that we move forward together as a community, in a spirit of grace and humility.”

Addressing journalists at a Feb. 1 press conference at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Spokane were, from left, diocesan legal counsel Shaun Cross and Greg Arpin, with Bishop Skylstad and the Spokane Diocese’s Vicar General, Father Steve Dublinski. (IR photo)

Bishop William Skylstad’s words at a press conference Feb. 1 set the tone for an announced settlement offer the diocese had extended to members of the Tort Litigants Committee (TLC), 75 victims of sexual abuse by diocesan personnel.

The offer included $45.75 million, as well as offers of non-monetary items.

The monetary aspect of the offer averages $610,000 per litigant.

“Much work remains before this settlement (offer) will become a reality,” the bishop said. “But the mere fact that we’ve gotten this far, is for me a reason for great hope.”

At a press conference earlier that day, representatives of the Tort Litigants Committee – victims who have brought suit against the diocese – announced the settlement offer. Legal counsel for the TLC said they were recommending that the offer be accepted. As of Feb. 1, the claimants have 120 days to accept or reject the offer.

Should the offer be accepted, it would then be up to the Federal Bankruptcy Court to approve the offer as part of the diocese’s Chapter 11 Reorganization. The hope is that a consensual plan of reorganization will be completed and approved by autumn of 2006, the bishop said.

The monetary aspect of the offer has drawn considerable attention in the days following the announcement.

Payment would come from a number of sources. Exactly how much might be contributed by which source is yet unclear.

The diocese’s available assets come to around $10 million and include such properties as the Catholic Pastoral Center in downtown Spokane, the bishop’s residence in Spokane’s West Central neighborhood, and some farm properties.

Contributions by insurance carriers have yet to be determined. Those negotiations by diocesan legal counsel are continuing.

Other entities “will be invited to participate,” said Father Steve Dublinski, Vicar General for the Spokane Diocese.

Other funding sources and options are being explored as well. Sale of parishes or schools is not being considered at this time, Bishop Skylstad said.

If the offer is accepted and approved, it will be up to the parties accepting the offer to decide how the money will be allocated among the parties.

More concrete are some of the non-monetary provisions of the offer.

The diocese is already fulfilling a number of the non-monetary requests, and has been for some years now.

Among those requests: posting the names of priests accused of abuse on the diocesan web site; publishing notices in the Inland Register, encouraging victims to come forward and how to report abuse.

Other non-monetary aspects of the offer:

• Bishop Skylstad will publicly support a complete elimination of all criminal statutes of limitation for child sexual abuse.
• The Inland Register will make available up to one full page per issue for two years for victims to tell their stories of abuse by priests and Religious.
• Bishop Skylstad (or his successor) will visit each parish where abuse has occurred. There he will read from the pulpit a statement identifying any perpetrators of abuse and urge any victims to come forward and contact law enforcement, the diocese’s Victims Assistance Coordinator, or other victim advocacy groups.
• Victims will be allowed to speak publicly, no more than one time, in the parish where they were abused, at a time mutually agreed upon by the victim, the diocese, and the pastor and/or administrator.
• The bishop (or his successor) will write personal letters of apology to victims and, if requested by the victim, to the victim’s immediate family.

In a letter read to parishioners the weekend of Feb. 4-5, Bishop Skylstad wrote that the settlement offer “has given much-needed momentum and much-needed hope to everyone…. When this is over, I believe we will be a better Church.”

One reporter asked if Bishop Skylstad intended to resign.

“No,” the bishop replied. “I want to see this through to its conclusion.”

“I call on the entire Catholic community to support the resolution I’ve proposed,” he said at the Feb. 1 press conference. He concluded: “I would ask that all people of faith in this region pray for the final resolution of this matter, that God’s Spirit would be with us this day and forevermore.”

 
 

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