Portland Archdiocese Lists $10 Million in Assets [Portland OR]
August 2 2004

The Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, has filed papers with a bankruptcy court listing $10 million in assets. Creditors of the archdiocese-- including lawyers for sex-abuse victims-- will try to persuade the court that the archdiocese actually controls assets of up to $500 million.

The Portland archdiocese, which opened a new chapter in Church history by filing for bankruptcy on July 6, has presented the court with a 230-page document, listing all of its assets, to be weighed against creditors' claims. The court filing includes the bank accounts of the archdiocese, and an estimated cash value of material assets-- although sacred objects are not included in the accounting.

The main point of contention in the bankruptcy case, however, will be the ownership of property held by the parishes of the Portland archdiocese. Real-estate records in Oregon show the value of parish properties at over $400 million. Creditors argue that these properties must be included as assets of the archdiocese, since the Portland archdiocese holds legal title to them. But the archdiocese counters by saying that under canon law, these properties belong to the parishes, and the archdiocese merely holds them in trust.

The court debate on this point could set a number of important legal precedents. The Code of Canon Law does clearly state that parish properties belong to the parishes themselves. However, it is not clear whether American courts will consider themselves bound by the principles of Church law. As a matter of legal record, the properties are clearly owned by the archdiocese.

Since the same situation applies in all other American dioceses-- with the diocese or archdiocese holding legal title to the properties used by parishes, schools, cemeteries, and other institutions-- the outcome of the Portland case could have important implications throughout the Catholic Church in America.


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