Bishop Skylstad Takes Right Steps on Abuse Issue

Yakima Herald [Washington]
February 9, 2006

Bishop William Skylstad has shown not only courage but needed leadership in settling the long-festering issue of sexual abuse by priests — at least in the Catholic Diocese of Spokane.

The Associated Press reported last week that Skylstad, a former bishop of Yakima and head of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, has offered to settle with 75 victims for $45.7 million. The deal, if approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Court and victims, would also require the bishop to go to each parish where abuse occurred to identify the perpetrator. Individuals who were abused would be given the opportunity to address parishes. And the diocesan newspaper would devote space to victims to write about their experiences.

The settlement does not cover at least 15 other people who have filed claims of abuse against the diocese and any others who file between now and the March 10 cutoff date for claims, according to the AP report.

Closer to home, we note that the Diocese of Yakima is already dealing with similar issues. The last report from local church officials was that the diocese had settled individually with 14 people whose allegations of abuse dated to 1950. The names of four clerics accused of abuse were also released. One case is still pending.

Two things are noteworthy about the Spokane deal:

• The money is not as significant as the formal apology, which means there are no more "alleged" victims. It is long-overdue validation and recognition that harm was suffered.

Last week, Skylstad publicly apologized to victims "for the terrible wrongs inflicted on you in the past."

• The requirement to seek out both perpetrators and victims and make greater efforts to prevent abuse deals with the issue in a proactive manner in an attempt to prevent it from happening in the future.

Mike Shea, an abuse victim and member of the committee that negotiated the deal, said: "The deepest feeling I have is a sense of accomplishment that our children and grandchildren are safer and much more protected."

The issue now facing the diocese is how to pay for the settlement if it is approved.

The diocese reportedly has three potential sources of money for the settlement, besides asking individual parishioners and anyone else in the Catholic Church who would want to help:

• Cash and assets directly controlled by the diocese are worth between $10 million and $11 million. That includes the ornate Chancery building, the bishop's house and some farm property.

• Insurance coverage that the diocese had previously estimated might be worth $15 million, but now contends is much higher. Attorney Shaun Cross said the diocese believes it has $43 million in coverage.

• There are 82 parish churches, 16 schools and other property that Skylstad had argued he does not control, but which a bankruptcy judge ruled that he does control. This property could be sold or mortgaged to raise money.

No one said it would be easy to pony up, but we do admire Skylstad's getting it done. The magnitude of the wrongs the victims suffered can never be measured in dollars and cents, of course, but this new awareness and admission certainly bode well for the future.

Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Michael Shepard, Sarah Jenkins and Bill Lee.


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