Clergy abuse victims, parishes approve Spokane diocese payment plan to emerge from bankruptcy

Associated Press/April 18, 2007

Spokane, Washington — Victims of clergy sexual abuse and parishes that will foot part of the bill to pay them have voted to approve a $48 million settlement, setting the stage for the Spokane Catholic Diocese to emerge from bankruptcy.

In documents filed Tuesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, some 161 people who filed abuse claims, individual parishes and other creditors voted to accept payments outlined in a court-mediated settlement.

Although the vote was unanimous, many of the victims believe the diocese should do more, plaintiffs' lawyer Michael Pfau said Wednesday.

"I think the victims have accepted the reality of finite resources and understand that there's some benefit to putting an end to this, and to doing it sooner, rather than later," said Pfau, who represents about half of those who sued.

The settlement would pay individual victims from $15,000 to $1.5 million, depending on the severity and length of abuse claimed. It also calls for Spokane Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to publicly apologize, publish the names of abusive clergy and allow victims to address the parishes involved.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams is expected to confirm the settlement and plan for emerging from bankruptcy at a hearing next Tuesday.

"It's the best we could do," said Mike Shea, who said he was abused by a Spokane priest in 1956 and wasn't happy with the settlement. "It's not the money. We weren't able to hold the bishop accountable and let the public learn the truth about his involvement."

Spokane Diocese officials declined to comment Wednesday and referred questions to their attorneys. Attorney Greg Arpin said he was optimistic it would be confirmed.

To pay the settlements, the diocese will raise money from insurance settlements; sales of the bishop's downtown office building and other property; contributions from Catholic entities, such as cemeteries; a capital campaign; and payments from parishes. The plan also sets aside $1 million for future claims, Arpin said.

The 93,000-member diocese, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2004, is among five nationwide that have sought bankruptcy protection amid sex abuse claims. The others are San Diego; Davenport, Iowa; Portland, Ore.; and Tucson, Ariz. Tucson has emerged from bankruptcy protection. A judge overseeing Portland's $75 million bankruptcy plan said last week she intends to approve it.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.