Portland Archdiocese to Settle Abuse Suits

By Jeff Barnard
Chicago Tribune
December 12, 2006,1,2056825.story?

Eugene, Ore. -- About 150 people who alleged they were molested by priests have agreed to settle their lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland for an undisclosed amount.

U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan announced the agreement Monday but would not give a dollar amount. He told reporters the archdiocese, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, could cover all current and future claims without selling off property held by parishes and schools.

The judge said the archdiocese has more than $50 million from settling litigation with insurance companies, plus sufficient real estate and other assets to cover the claims.

Portland was the first archdiocese in the nation to seek protection from creditors when it went to federal bankruptcy court to head off lawsuits claiming sexual abuse by Rev. Maurice Grammond, who has since died. Other priests also were accused of abuses.

Three other dioceses--Tucson, Ariz.; Spokane, Wash.; and Davenport, Iowa--also have sought bankruptcy court protection from a flood of lawsuits by people alleging sexual abuses by priests. Tucson emerged from the process last year.

Court records show the Portland archdiocese has spent $15 million on legal costs.

"These are expensive lessons," Hogan said. "All of our hope is, including the archdiocese, is that they have been learned."

About 20 lawsuits remain, but Hogan said he was confident the remaining plaintiffs would accept the settlement. All parties are under a gag order.

David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who is not a party in the agreement, expressed hope that the settlement would bring healing to those who sued.

"We are grateful they had the wisdom to go to the courts and had the persistence to continue throughout this arduous process," he said in a statement.

Despite the agreement, there is still work to be done in the archdiocese's bankruptcy case.

Final terms of the settlement will have to be incorporated into a reorganization plan for the archdiocese, and Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris will have to rule that the plan is fair for all parties.

The bankruptcy case has pitted U.S. courts against church law over church property ownership.


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