Parishioners Seek Bankruptcy Details

By Todd Ruger
Quad-City Times
October 6, 2004,1036705

A group including at least three men alleging sexual abuse by priests of the Catholic Diocese of Davenport asked the bishop Wednesday for open meetings regarding possible plans to seek bankruptcy.

A letter to Bishop William Franklin — signed by 23 people from 10 diocese parishes, including three priests and relatives of men alleging priestly sexual abuse — said filing bankruptcy for the diocese “without any real consultation with or explanation to your flock, we feel would be unwise, unjust and unhealthy.”

Last week, Franklin told a meeting of parish leaders that the diocese might file for bankruptcy because it does not have adequate financial resources to compensate victims of child sexual abuse by priests. The letter suggests that Franklin schedule one open meeting about the diocese’s financial situation in each of the six diocesan deaneries.

The Rev. David Hitch, left, embraces David Clohessy, national director for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, a national advocacy group for people abused by clergy. Clohessy was sexually molested as a teen by a priest, as was Hitch’s brother, Michael Hitch of Broken Arrow, Okla., standing at right. The men were in town Wednesday to ask the Catholic Diocese of Davenport to meet with parishioners about possible bankruptcy plans following allegations of sexual abuse.

“Then, and only then, we might feel better about the course of action that seems likely to embroil everyone — victims, lay people, clergy and parish employees — in years of perhaps preventable conflict,” the letter states.

Franklin responded to the letter in a media release Wednesday afternoon, further explaining what bankruptcy would mean for the diocese regarding the at least 37 men and 15 lawsuits claiming sexual abuse by priests.

He re-emphasized that mediation and settlement conferences continue, but said it is not in the best interest of all claimants or the diocese for the first case to go to trial Nov. 1.

“Those litigating would have first claim on the assets of the diocese,” Franklin stated in the release. “Any victim coming forward in the future, or litigating later, could be prejudiced if the assets of the diocese were exhausted by the first claims.”

A Chapter 11 bankruptcy also could allow the diocese to continue its good works and programs in serving the 100,000-plus catholics of the diocese, Franklin said.

But Mike Hitch of Broken Arrow, Okla. and Don Green of DeWitt, Iowa, two of the men who filed lawsuits against the diocese, stood in front of the Davenport federal courthouse Wednesday to question whether Franklin is taking the diocese in the direction parishioners want it to go.

“Money is not the object, money will never make the wounds heal,” Green said of the claims and the bishop’s talk of bankruptcy.

Hitch’s brother, the Rev. David Hitch of St. Mary’s Parish in Tipton, asked the bishop to give the mediations a chance. “The lay people have not been given an opportunity to have their voice heard,” he said.

Franklin and Davenport attorney Craig Levien, who represents at least 37 men who accuse priests in the diocese of abusing them as boys from 20 to 50 years ago, both decline to release the amount sought by the men in mediations, saying the talks are confidential.

Levien strongly disputes Franklin’s claim that the church finances are inadequate for fair settlements.

The diocese reported total net assets of about $10 million in an audited financial statement published in the Catholic Messenger last November, which included real estate, portfolios and other assets.

Only two other dioceses — Portland, Ore. and Tucson, Ariz. — have filed for bankruptcy after paying settlements in the millions of dollars.

Todd Ruger can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or


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