Davenport Diocese Talks Money

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
October 1, 2004

Iowa City, Ia. - Pastors and board members from every parish in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport were invited here Thursday to discuss the possibility of the diocese seeking bankruptcy protection from several priest abuse lawsuits.

"Diocesan resources are insufficient to cover what compensation the victims are asking. We will try to settle these cases fairly and honorable. Tragically, there are many more that also have been harmed, primarily by three former priests of the diocese," Davenport Bishop William Franklin said."Chapter 11 may be the only way to compensate all victims - all who have come forward and those yet to do so," he said.

The diocese is facing 16 civil lawsuits filed by 18 men who allege they were sexually abused by priests. Another 22 cases are in mediation.

"If bankruptcy becomes necessary, there is something you should know. . . . The diocese will remain in operation, the diocese will scale down. St. Vincent Center, an asset of the diocese, will be sold and the diocese will move its headquarters," Franklin said.The bishop also told parish officials and priests that one of the reasons he had called them together was that he wants them to make sure their corporation records are in good order.

Craig Levien, attorney for a majority of plaintiffs with claims against the diocese, said he would be disappointed if the diocese chose to take that route.

"We believe there are sufficient insurance proceeds, assets of the diocese and borrowing ability to fully compensate the victims," Levien said.David Clohessy, executive director for SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said: "The threat of bankruptcy is a very common public relations and legal maneuver that dioceses across the country have used for years. If the bishop is going to use a bankruptcy threat, he owes it to his parishes and to the public to fully open his financial books first before running into court and seeking to protect his money."

Rand Wonio, attorney for the diocese, said: "People have a right to know what options the diocese has as far as the future is concerned. Bankruptcy would be a fair and neutral way to resolve all these issues."After the meeting held at St. Patrick parish, the Rev. Ernie Braida, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Newton, said more people needed to be in on the conversation about whether the diocese should file for bankruptcy.

"I think this needs to be discussed by the people in the pews," Braida said.

Up to a dozen dioceses in the country are considered candidates for bankruptcy, although only two have filed for Chapter 11 protection.

The Portland, Ore., archdiocese filed for bankruptcy on July 6, listing $10 million in assets. It had already paid $53 million to settle 130 abuse cases and was faced with a plaintiff who would not budge from his demand for $135 million in damages.The Tucson, Ariz., diocese filed for bankruptcy Sept. 20. It listed assets of $16.6 million and debts of $20.7 million. It had paid more than $20 million in claims to abuse survivors.

The Davenport diocese maintains that parish facilities are not assets of the diocese. However, attorneys for the plaintiffs dispute that.


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