Fairbanks Diocese Weighs Bankruptcy
Sexual Abuse: over 90 Claims Lead to Financial Worries

The Associated Press, carried in Anchorage Daily News
February 14, 2006

FAIRBANKS -- The Fairbanks Catholic Diocese may have to consider bankruptcy if the church loses pending court decisions in sexual abuse lawsuits.

Priests in the diocese's far-flung churches read a letter during weekend services from Bishop Donald Kettler outlining ways to handle the more than 90 sexual abuse claims against former priests and church volunteers.

Most parishioners weren't surprised that bankruptcy is among those options.

"We know what's happening in other dioceses, with bankruptcies," said Anne Aleshire, a 13-year parishioner at St. Raphael Catholic Parish.

Kettler wrote that his top priority would be to "provide equitable, fair and just support for the victims, families and communities affected by the sexual abuse."

Negotiating a settlement with the victims is Kettler's second option. The diocese has already settled with five people who claimed they were abused.

The least desirable choice, Kettler wrote, would be filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, allowing the diocese to structure payments to current and future claimants.

Some Sunday service attendees appreciated the letter's candor.

"I wanted to applaud," said Noel Robinson, a St. Raphael parishioner for about 10 years. "They're dealing with it in the open and that's the only way to ... start the healing."

Kettler said 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 several decisions.

In the suit, an unidentified plaintiff 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.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.