Bishop: Bankruptcy an Option for Diocese
By Margaret Friedenauer
Fairbanks News-Miner [Alaska]
February 13, 2006
Bishop Donald Kettler announced to parishioners Saturday and Sunday that the Fairbanks Catholic Diocese may have to consider bankruptcy among other options if the church loses pending court decisions in sexual abuse lawsuits.
Priests in the diocese's far-flung churches read a letter from Kettler that outlined three options he was considering to deal with the more than 90 sexual abuse of a minor claims against former priests and church volunteers. That bankruptcy is among those options was not met with great surprise.
"We know what's happening in other dioceses, with bankruptcies," said Anne Aleshire, a 13-year parishioner at St. Raphael Catholic Parish. "It's not surprising that that's one of the options."
Kettler noted the first trial is scheduled for Feb. 27 if a Nome Superior Court judge or the Alaska Supreme Court fail to side with the diocese and the Society of Jesus in a number of decisions. In her suit, Jane Doe 2 claims the Rev. James Poole sexually abused her, impregnated her, then told her to get an abortion.
Nome Judge Ben Esch recently severed Poole from the suit, but the diocese and Jesuits remain on track for trial.
Kettler wrote that his "first and preferred option is to have the freedom and latitude to move quickly to provide equitable, fair and just support for the victims, families and communities affected by the sexual abuse."
The second option, he wrote, would be to negotiate a settlement with the victims. So far the diocese has settled with five people who have come forward with abuse claims.
The third and "least desired option," he wrote, would be to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and implement a reorganization plan, allowing the diocese to structure payments to current and future claimants.
Some Sunday service attendees appreciated the letter's candor.
"My reaction is, I wanted to applaud," said Noel Robinson, a St. Raphael parishioner for about 10 years. "I wanted to applaud because here in the diocese they're dealing with it. They're dealing with it in the open and that's the only way to prevent it and to start the healing."
After reading the letter at St. Raphael, the Rev. Patrick Bergquist encouraged parishioners to re-read the letter or take a copy with them. He fielded questions about the bishop's comments, mostly to get clarification and a clear understanding of the letter's intent, he said. But the comment that bankruptcy might have to be considered was not surprising for most.
"That news wasn't new, that possibility wasn't new," he said. "We've been able to talk about the issue in a fairly forthright manner."
For several of the parishioners interviewed, the talk of bankruptcy is still secondary to offering healing to victims and refocusing on the church's mission. In the midst of the court cases, settlements and stresses on the church, many said they accept there will be changes.
"There's bound to be changes," Robinson said. "You can't have something like this that doesn't change things."
Staff writer Margaret Friedenauer can be reached at 459-7545 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
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