Question Rises over Sex Abuse Claims Cap
Portland Archdiocese - Bankruptcy Judge Holds Doubts over Her Authority to Rule on the Issue
By Ashbel S. Green firstname.lastname@example.org
The Oregonian [Portland OR]
February 15, 2006
A federal bankruptcy judge said Tuesday that she did not think she had the legal authority to set a cap on the amount of money the Portland Archdiocese will have to pay more than 100 people who claim they were molested by priests.
The cap is a key issue in a proposal by the archdiocese to emerge from bankruptcy.
The archdiocese plan estimates that about $40 million will cover all the pending claims. In a hearing Tuesday, a church lawyer acknowledged that Catholic officials want the court to set a maximum limit to provide the certainty needed to allow the archdiocese to get out of bankruptcy and continue its charitable and educational missions.
Judge Elizabeth Perris said she will make a ruling in about 10 days, but said she thought she would have to refer the question of a cap to a federal District Court judge.
Perris also said she thought a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling prevented her from inoculating the archdiocese from potential punitive damages.
She did say she would be willing to estimate how much the church will have to pay, but for the limited purpose of helping people who have filed priest sex abuse claims decide whether they want to vote for the church's proposal.
After Perris issues her ruling, church lawyers plan to make changes to their proposal.
A lawyer for priest accusers said there was no point in estimating how much the church will have to pay because it has more than enough money to cover all claims.
Church lawyers dispute how much money is available to settle claims and said several legal issues have yet to be answered.
Albert Kennedy, who represents people suing over sexual abuse, said setting a cap would violate the rights of his clients.
Tuesday's hearing occurred a day after Kennedy submitted a plan that would require the archdiocese to pay all claims. Past verdicts suggest that could be as high as $240 million, but Kennedy said he expects the number to be much lower and would not require the church to sell churches or schools.
Perris said she expected to hold a hearing in April to discuss the plaintiffs' plan as well as the amended archdiocese plan.
Ashbel "Tony" Green: 503-221-8202; email@example.com
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