Our Opinion: Bankruptcy May Be Best for Diocese

Tucson Citizen
July 8, 2004

Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas soon will decide whether to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the Diocese of Tucson, to ensure that all victims of sexual abuse by priests get a fair settlement.

While some victims' attorneys say the diocese is jettisoning assets to protect its finances, we believe Kicanas is taking the right path.

We tend to believe Kicanas, period. Never in memory has Tucson had a bishop so eager to engage the public, parishioners and the press in no-holds-barred talks about the church's challenges and plans.

In a recent meeting with the Tucson Citizen Editorial Board, Kicanas outlined his concerns for priests' abuse victims.

The "mission diocese," dependent on Catholic groups' contributions, incurred a $33 million debt in 1987 as it was establishing its own television station. Recovery required selling the station and diocese cemeteries in Tucson, laying off 14 employees and trimming the remaining staff's pay by 10 percent.

This trouble came well before Kicanas did, but he was greeted to Tucson by the churchwide sex abuse scandal, which likely will prove even more costly.

A 2002 confidential settlement already has cost millions, with one $3 million portion due in 2007. But as more and more victims come forward, they face the rule of litigation: first come, first served.

"You may settle something only to find there's another round (of victim claims)," Kicanas says. "At some point, there simply will be no more money. Chapter 11 is the only way government has to bring things together."

Thus if victims are to be compensated in a fair, equitable and orderly way, bankruptcy may be the only solution.

Meanwhile, church assets are being sold either to pay these victims or to continue the church's work in Tucson.

The diocese sold its own downtown headquarters June 30 for $1.65 million to pay abuse claims. Likewise, it sold the Regina Cleri Center for $3 million to raise money for victims.

Now victims' attorneys have filed a court motion in Yuma, where a Catholic priest's civil trial starts Sept. 15. They seek to block any sale or transfer of diocese assets.

Since the diocese has sold two properties, strictly to compensate the victims of priests, this court motion's supposed benefit for abuse victims escapes us.

Kicanas is acting in the best interests of the church, its mission and its victims.


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