Wash. diocese reaches sex abuse agreement to save parishes

Bishop Blaise Cupich CNA US Catholic News 5 31 12 Bishop Blase J. Cupich.

The Diocese of Spokane, Wash. has reached a mediation agreement in a sex abuse suit that will save parishes from foreclosure, reduce the diocese's legal fees and compensate victims, Bishop Blase J. Cupich announced.

“This is an important and significant turning point in a very sad chapter of our diocesan history,” Bishop Cupich said in a May 27 letter to the diocese’s parishioners.

“We can never forget the harm done to children, who deserved better from the Church and her ministers. Once again, I apologize to the survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and to the families of survivors.”

The Diocese of Spokane reached a bankruptcy agreement in 2007 to pay $48 million to nearly 180 victims of clergy sex abuse from decades ago and to pay lawyers’ fees, the Seattle Times reported. Twenty-two parishes in Spokane County offered their parish properties as collateral to help ensure the claims could be paid, in the belief that foreclosure would be unlikely.

However, some victims were allowed to file late claims, causing worry parishes would be foreclosed upon.

Catholic parishioners are now being asked to contribute another $1.5 million to help resolve the settlement, a figure far smaller than initially feared.

The diocese has also created a new strategy and procedure for the remaining four years of the bankruptcy plan. It will withdraw all legal appeals to eliminate “costly legal fees,” the bishop noted.

Bishop Cupich said that parishes had been in severe risk of foreclosure.

“I cannot underscore enough how close we were to losing by foreclosure up to one-half of our parishes in Spokane County, had the mediation process not intervened,” he said. “Everyone would have lost.”

The legal battles would have displaced faith and school communities and triggered more legal costs.

“It is also certain that eventual proceeds from the sale of parish and school properties would have gone disproportionately to legal and court fees rather than compensating victims.”

The bishop praised the lawyers and advisors who helped the diocese reach the agreement and asked for continued prayer from the faithful.

“We will not waiver in staying vigilant and making sure that our churches and schools remain safe environments for our young people,” Bishop Cupich said in his three-page letter.

“I am also personally committed to promoting healing in our Church and I plan to announce in the near future some new initiatives in this regard.”

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