Groups from 10 Parishes Ask Davenport Diocese Bankruptcy Meetings

Associated Press, carried in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
October 7, 2004

DAVENPORT -- A letter signed by 23 people from 10 parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport asks Bishop William Franklin for open meetings regarding the diocese's possible plans to seek bankruptcy because of potential payments to men alleging sexual abuse by priests years ago.

"Filing bankruptcy for the diocese without any real consultation with or explanation to your flock, we feel would be unwise, unjust and unhealthy," said the letter which was signed by at least three men alleging sexual abuse, relatives of others alleging sexual abuse, and three priests.

Franklin told a meeting of parish leaders last week 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.

"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," Wednesday's letter says.

Franklin responded late Wednesday with a news release, further explaining what bankruptcy would mean for the diocese regarding the at least 37 men and 15 lawsuits claiming sexual abuse by priests.

He said 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, as currently scheduled.

"Those litigating would have first claim on the assets of the diocese," Franklin's release said. "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.

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 the direction it wants to go.

"Money is not the object, money will never make the wounds heal," one said of the claims and the bishop's talk of bankruptcy.

A brother of the other one 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 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 and Tucson -- have filed for bankruptcy after paying settlements in the millions of dollars.


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