Area Priest Says Bishop Could Have Prevented Diocese Bankruptcy

By Dawn Neuses
Quad-Cities Online [Tipton IA]
October 11, 2006

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport could have avoided filing for bankruptcy if it, and Bishop William Franklin, had handled claims of priests sexually abusing parishioners differently, a priest said Tuesday.

The first lawsuit was filed against the diocese after the victim went to Bishop Franklin and received no satisfaction, said the Rev. David Hitch of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Tipton.

Instead, Rev. Hitch said, the bishop decided to let diocese attorneys handle the issue.

"If he would have been a bishop in my understanding of a bishop, who leads his flock lovingly, caringly, and when someone comes to him and says 'I'm hurting, I've been abused by a priest,' -- if he had just reached out to them, gathered them together and said 'Let's get to the bottom of this, let's get you healthy again and let everyone in the diocese know it's not your fault,'" Rev. Hitch said.

"Certainly in my thinking it's not the victims of abuse by priests who caused this. It is caused by the diocesean leadership, mainly the bishop," he said.

"It is a sad day for all of us," he said, "a sad day for the whole church, for the diocese of Davenport."

In a letter posted on the diocese Web site, Bishop Franklin termed the bankruptcy filing a "very difficult decision" that was made because of the diocese's "limited resources."

"It is my desire to respond to all victims of clergy sexual abuse in the most appropriate way and to help them in the healing process," he wrote, going on to explain that paying 25 outstanding abuse claims would leave no money to compensate any victims who might come forward in the future.

Since 2004, the diocese has paid more than $10.5 million to resolve dozens of abuse claims filed against priests, including a $9 million settlement reached with 37 victims in fall 2004.

The Davenport-based Catholics for Spiritual Healing and the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said they are "publicly begging" for the diocese to open its books to an independent auditor and to start an open dialog with parishioners before going through with the bankruptcy proceedings.

The two organizations sent Bishop Franklin a letter Tuesday urging the diocese to allow auditors to examine its checking accounts, saving accounts, stocks, bonds, property and insurance policies to get an objective determination on whether the church has enough money to help victims.

"Until you take this simple step toward being open and building trust, reasonable people will doubt your claims of 'poverty'," the letter states.

"I don't trust them at all," former abuse victim and practicing Catholic Al Burke, of LeClaire, said of the diocese. "I think they have the money. The last time they threatened bankruptcy they had millions of dollars there."

In October 2004, when the diocese threatened to file bankruptcy because of clergy sex abuse lawsuits, the groups sent similar letters to Bishop Franklin. Those letters were signed by parishioners and clergy from more than 10 parishes, and urged him to hold open meetings in all six of the diocese regions before declaring bankruptcy.

The Bishop never acknowledged their first request, said Ann Green of Catholics for Spiritual Healing.

Ms. Green said what concerns her most now is the possibility that during the bankruptcy process, all abuse victims will be given certain time period to come forward and make claims. After that time period is over, there would be no more legal recourse for them, she said.

"Those who support victims and work with victims and are family members of victims understand all too well that they come forward and come to terms with their abuse in their own time," Ms. Green said. "There will be victims who will not be emotionally capable to come forward and ask for assistance.

"This shows to me that their words are quite empty when they say they believe they are extending a good faith effort to help the victims, because this is not how you help victims," she added.

The Davenport Diocese was formed in 1881, covers 22 counties in southeast Iowa and has more than 105,000 parishioners in 84 parishes.


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