Skylstad: Diocese Can Raise $35 Million for Settlements
By Nicholas K. Geranios
KGW [Spokane WA]
July 12, 2006
[See Skylstad's letter and the diocese's description
of the original offer: Diocese
Makes $45.75 Million Settlement Offer to 75 Victims, by Deacon Eric
Meisfjord, Inland Register (offer made 2/1/06; article published 2/23/06)
The Catholic Diocese of Spokane can raise at least $35 million to divide
among victims of sex abuse by priests, and may have to ask parishioners
to contribute if more money is needed, Bishop William Skylstad said in
his latest letter to church members.
But a lawyer for sex abuse victims said $35 million will not be nearly
enough to settle the dozens of lawsuits filed against the diocese.
"In my opinion, he is not in the ballpark," said Duane Rasmussan,
attorney for about one third of the victims. "It'll take his original
Skylstad, who is head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, had
originally offered a $45 million settlement to 75 victims, but a federal
bankruptcy judge rejected the offer because it did not deal with all the
identified victims. There may be 60 to 70 additional victims, lawyers
for both sides have said.
"I think the victims are willing to continue on with the struggle,"
The two sides participated in one day of settlement talks last Friday
in Reno, Nev., and more talks are scheduled for the week of Aug. 21 in
Spokane. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams has told participants
not to disclose the content of the talks.
Skylstad's letter, which appeared last week in the diocese's Inland Register
newspaper, said the diocese will have just over $20 million from its insurance
carriers to offer to victims. The diocese also has about $8 million in
assets, much of it real estate that can be sold.
Skylstad also estimated that about $7 million can be raised from other
"If any additional monies are needed for the final settlement, I
will have to ask for the financial support of the parishioners,"
Skylstad wrote. "At this point in time, that amount is unknown, although
there is certainly a limit to what parishes can contribute to a feasible
He did not outline precisely how the earlier offer of $45 million would
have been funded, although he mentioned insurance settlements and property
Skylstad said his primary concern remains the victims.
"They have been hurt," Skylstad wrote. "As we travel this
very expensive journey, I hope no one in our diocese will blame the victims."
He added that the Catholic Church in Eastern Washington must continue
its mission, and must ensure that sex abuse does not happen again.
A recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Justin L. Quackenbush, who held
that individual churches and schools were owned by the parishes and cannot
be sold by the bishop to raise money, was a key development, Skylstad
"Judge Quackenbush's ruling was not only helpful to us, but also
sends a good message to the whole country as to how we look at parish
property in the Catholic Church," Skylstad said.
However, the question of how parish assets might be used in the case remains
"It is very clear that when all is completed, we will have much more
limited assets with which to support ministry in the Church," Skylstad
wrote. "But our mission will continue."
Dozens of claims of sexual abuse by priests led the diocese to file for
Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2004. In its bankruptcy petition,
the diocese listed assets of $11 million against liabilities of at least
$81.3 million, most from sex abuse claims.
The diocese serves about 90,000 Catholics in 82 parishes in 13 Eastern