Attorney Suggests Parishioners Contribute to Settlement

August 14, 2006

An attorney representing people who allege they were sexually abused by priests says Catholics in Eastern Washington can settle their church’s sex-abuse crisis and bankruptcy for $60 million — half of which he suggests could come from parishioners.

Bishop William Skylstad already has $30 million at his disposal from asset sales, insurance settlements and pledges from Catholic Charities and related organizations.

The remaining $30 million could be raised through what those involved in negotiations are calling the “latte-a-day” plan.

“We’re not asking for anything that can’t be done,” said attorney Tim Kosnoff, who represents multiple sex-abuse victims.

Attorneys representing various parties in the bankruptcy are known to be considering the plan following the Bankruptcy Court’s rejection of an earlier settlement agreement proposed by Skylstad, which provided for $35 million in Spokane diocese funds and indicated parishioners might have to cover the balance.

Numbers under the proposed plan might look like this: If just 20,000 of Eastern Washington’s 93,000 Catholics pitched in, the payment would be $2.05 per person per day for two years — less than the cost of a latte. If all 93,000 parishioners pay, the sum would be far less.

The calculation is intended to undercut suggestions that victims are calling for the sale of churches and schools. A small daily sacrifice by fewer than one in four Catholics could end the bankruptcy and resolve this dark chapter in the church’s history, said Michael Pfau, another attorney representing victims.

Skylstad led the Spokane Diocese into bankruptcy 20 months ago, largely in an effort to suspend potentially devastating lawsuits and shield parish property from jury verdicts.

Though the effort has worked, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams said she wanted the case resolved before December or she may dismiss it. Senior U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush ruled this summer that parishes are legally separate from the diocese, declaring them unassociated corporations with legal exposure.

The judges’ actions underscore the importance of a second round of federal mediation, which begins Aug. 21.

Diocese attorney Shaun Cross declined to comment on the latte-a-day plan, citing the upcoming talks.

Attorney Ford Elsaesser, who represents the Association of Parishes in the bankruptcy, also declined to comment.

When the notion of suing parishes and Catholic laity first was broached in July, however, Elsaesser questioned the strategy. Anything more from the cash-strapped diocese would jeopardize the ministry and charitable works of the church in Eastern Washington, he said at the time.

Kosnoff said suing parishes is not a bully tactic, but rather the legal path pointed to by Quackenbush’s ruling that parishes were independent of the diocese.

Topics Washington

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