Plans Halted for Parish Expansion
Delay Stems from Portland Archdiocese Decision to File for Bankruptcy Protection

By Jonel Aleccia
Mail Tribune [Oregon]
September 28, 2004

CENTRAL POINT — Overcrowded pews at Shepherd of the Valley Catholic Church give a whole new meaning to the concept of communion, but parishioners won’t see relief anytime soon.

Plans for a $3 million capital campaign that would double the size of the tiny church have been placed on hold while the Archdiocese of Portland grapples with bankruptcy proceedings.

"For the last four years, we’ve been meeting with architects," said the Rev. Jim Clifford, the parish priest. "We were just about to get to a final stage."

In July, however, just after the Portland Archdiocese became the first in the nation to file for bankruptcy protection from pending sex abuse claims, Clifford received a letter.

It asked all parishes under the archdiocese to halt plans for expansion. Clifford’s church, of course, complied.

"It didn’t seem to be a wise move to ask people for large sums of money when it was up in the air," he said.

Specifically unresolved is a legal dispute over the jurisdiction of canon, or church law, vs. civil law. Archbishop John G. Vlazny assured parishes throughout the archdiocese that individual parish assets would not be tapped for settlement costs. However, lawyers for the claimants argue that parish assets could be used to pay damages for more than 60 people allegedly abused by priests.

That leaves Shepherd of the Valley in a difficult position, said Clifford. The church at 600 Beebe Road can hold 225 people — and does so during several weekend services, including four on Sunday alone.

"On the weekends, most of the time one or more of our services are standing-room only," Clifford said. "We’re growing and the whole of Central Point and Southern Oregon is growing."

Plans called for a proposed new church that could hold up to 500 people, with capacity to expand in the future.

Clifford and his parishioners are philosophical about the delay. He supports the Archdiocese’s decision to file for bankruptcy and believes that the church hierarchy is trying its best to compensate past victims while also serving current members.

"The evil done by some many years ago has consequences," Clifford said.

The church has yet to decide whether to join other parishes — including two in the Rogue Valley — in a coalition aimed at protecting them from the aftermath of the bankruptcy filing. Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Medford and Our Lady of the Mountain in Ashland already have joined the Committee of Parishes, which represents more than two dozen of the state’s 124 parishes in an attempt to shield parish assets.

County assessment records indicate that Shepherd of the Valley’s assets total nearly $650,000.

The situation has offered a lesson in faith and penance, said Frank Pulver, a Medford resident and 15-year-member of the church. The Saturday afternoon services he attends are not too crowded, Pulver said. And if the construction delay helps meet the needs both of sexual abuse victims and current parishioners, so much the better.

Most church members are pained by descriptions of abuse at the hands of priests and eager for the victims to find peace, he said. That was evident in a novena, a devotional prayer, church members said this summer.

"It was a prayer that (the victims) would get a fair settlement and heal their wounds. It recognized first and foremost the abuse and hardship the people have suffered," he said. "It was the kind of outlook you think Christ might have had."


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