Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Spokane diocese asks people to help with abuse payment

~from The Oregonian

It's the Easter season in the Roman Catholic Church, but in parishes around Spokane, sermons on the joy of the resurrection of Jesus Christ are mixed with urgent pleas for money to pay people who were sexually abused by clergy decades ago.

Priests sometimes evoke the parable of the good Samaritan -- who stopped to help a man who had been beaten and robbed when others looked the other way -- as they wage a unique campaign to raise money to settle the Spokane diocese's long-running sex-abuse scandal.

"I've been telling them the focus here is on the children who were hurt and doing what we can to bring them some sort of compensation, some sort of healing," said the Rev. Edgar Borchardt, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the college and farm town of Pullman, about 80 miles south of Spokane.

A Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plan approved last month commits the 95,000-member diocese to pay $48 million -- including $10 million from 82 parishes -- to settle as many as 177 claims of previous sexual abuse. That $10 million is roughly what the parishioners normally put in the collection plate in a year.

While five dioceses around the country are struggling with similar cases, the Spokane diocese is the only one asking its parishioners to make such significant contributions toward paying the victims.

The diocese -- home of Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- is the smallest and poorest of the five dioceses nationwide that sought bankruptcy protection against clergy sex abuse lawsuits.

The others are Portland; San Diego; Davenport, Iowa; and Tucson, Ariz. Tucson has emerged from bankruptcy protection, while Portland's reorganization plan also has been approved.

The Portland plan included more than $50 million to pay about 175 people who claimed they were abused by religious clergy and other Catholic officials. The plan also set aside about $20 million for priest accusers who haven't yet come forward. Insurance companies provided more than $52 million. The archdiocese plans to pay the rest with other available funds and a line of credit. No parish or school assets will be used.

In Spokane, Skylstad is himself raising an additional $6 million toward the bankruptcy settlement, and Catholic agencies, such as cemeteries, children's homes and charities, are being asked to contribute another $6.5 million.

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