Catholic Parishes Confirm Bankruptcy Appears Likely

By Sheryl Kornman
Tucson Citizen [Tucson]
July 12, 2004

Thousands of parishioners in the Catholic Diocese of Tucson got the official word for the first time from their priests at Mass yesterday and Saturday that bankruptcy appears likely for the diocese.

Chapter 11 protection is being considered by the diocese, which faces an unknown amount of present and future damage claims alleging sexual abuse by its priests and other employees, according to Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas.

This weekend marks the first time parishioners were told of the possibility of bankruptcy in church by their pastors.

Monsignor Thomas P. Cahalane of Our Mother of Sorrows, 1800 S. Kolb Road, told about 200 parishioners at 12:15 p.m. Mass yesterday that he will meet soon with the parish finance committee and others regarding the bankruptcy issue.

He told parishioners he will also meet with them about the "impending possible bankruptcy" at a parish meeting in two weeks "to share questions and concerns." He thanked parishioners for their "faith and love for your parish."

In writing about the "bankruptcy option" in his letter to parishioners in the weekly parish bulletin, he urged them to continue giving to the Annual Catholic Appeal.

Parishioner Barry Roberts, 50, said after Mass yesterday that Our Mother of Sorrows has been his church "for 20-plus years."

Roberts said bankruptcy would protect the parishes.

"I think that Chapter 11 is for the protection of the people in the parish, the Catholic people, and I'm going to support it. I'm 100 percent in support of the decision to go that avenue."

Jacqueline Lopez, 40, who said she was baptized as an infant at Our Mother of Sorrows, said after Mass: "We are very much in support of our church and what they are doing and how they are looking to fix a difficult situation for all the people involved and, yes, we support (bankruptcy).

"We're not ashamed to be Catholic. Those that need to come and hear and speak (at a parish meeting with the monsignor), it's great that they will do that."

Chapter 11 bankruptcy would allow the diocese to keep operating while its assets are protected by the courts. Bankruptcy courts consider all the assets and claims against a corporation and decide fair compensation to creditors and claimants.

The Rev. Van A. Wagner, vicar general of the diocese, is overseeing the diocese while Kicanas is out of the country.

He faxed a letter to all parish priests Friday, advising them that the diocese is putting together a list of assets and that it will review parish records as part of that process.

And parish priests were advised to tell parishioners during weekend Mass that bankruptcy for the diocese appears likely.

Fred Allison, communications director of the diocese, said yesterday that the look at parish properties is part of the effort by the diocese to tally all its real estate assets.The diocese already has paid an amount reported to be in the millions in sex abuse claims and faces others that are unresolved.

Kicanas said he will make the decision on bankruptcy by mid-September.


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