Parishioners Seek Bankruptcy Details
By Todd Ruger
October 6, 2004
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,
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,”
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
Todd Ruger can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.