Spokane Diocese Settles Sex Abuse Claims

By John K. Wiley
Wilmington Star News
January 4, 2007

Spokane, Wash. | The Spokane Catholic Diocese has agreed to pay at least $48 million to people molested by priests as a part of a deal to emerge from bankruptcy, a federal mediator announced Thursday.

Federal Bankruptcy Judge Gregg W. Zive in Reno, Nev., said the settlement would provide survivors "with some measure of closure and allow them to move forward and continue the healing process."

The proposed reorganization plan was filed in federal bankruptcy court in Spokane. It still must be approved by victims and another bankruptcy judge.

Church spokesman Eric Meisfjord said the diocese would have no immediate comment.

The settlement would be financed by $20 million from six insurance carriers; another $18 million from the sale of the bishop's office building and other assets and contributions from Catholic entities; and $10 million from the diocese's 82 parishes, Zive said.

The settlement does not include specific numbers of victims or individual amounts to be paid, but establishes a process for distributing the money, as well as a means for paying victims who have not yet filed claims, Zive said.

About 150 individual claims were filed against the diocese as part of the bankruptcy, although not all of those people chose to sue.

In addition to helping abuse victims, Zive said, the settlement would allow the diocese "to continue its ministry and to begin its own journey of renewal, healing and hope."

The diocese serves about 90,000 Catholics in eastern Washington. It filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004, citing claims by abuse victims of about $81.3 million against assets of about $11 million.

The settlement requires Spokane Bishop William Skylstad to publicly support eliminating statutes of limitations on child sex crimes and to personally visit each parish where children were abused to urge parishioners to come forward with reports of abuse, according to court documents.

Skylstad must also send letters of apology to victims or their immediate families; publish the names of all known abusers; allow victims to publicly address the parishes where they were sexually abused; and to publish their stories in the diocesan newspaper.

Mike Ross, an officer of the Spokane chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a national organization of clergy abuse victims, said victims were "not thrilled with this deal." Many of them "will never see their day in court and that's truly what they wanted," Ross said.

Skylstad is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He was among clergy accused of sexual abuse in the bankruptcy claims, but has denied allegations that he had sexual relations with a woman in the 1960s.

The settlement is slightly more than the $45.7 million Skylstad offered last year to 75 plaintiffs. That offer was rejected because it failed to include victims who had not filed claims, or those who may file claims in the future.

The settlement is considerably less than some recent cases involving dioceses in other U.S. cities.

Last month, the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., filed a bankruptcy reorganization plan that would pay about $75 million to settle nearly 170 claims of priest sex abuse, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay $60 million to settle 45 sex abuse claims.

Other large settlements include $100 million paid to 87 claimants in 2005 by the Diocese of Orange County, Calif., and $85 million paid to 552 claimants in 2003 by the Archdiocese of Boston.


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