Bishop Skylstad says while parish property is safe, assistance may be requested

.- In an ongoing commitment to settle with victims of sexual abuse by priests, Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane told church members in a letter that the diocese is able to raise up to $35 million for the settlement. If this amount is not enough, he may ask parishioners for donations.

The bishop’s letter was published last week in the diocesan newspaper, the Inland Register. In it, the bishop explained that the diocese will have just over $20 million from its insurance carriers and about $8 million in assets, much of it in real estate that can be sold.

The bishop underlined that this real estate does not include parish churches. On June 15, Judge Justin Quackenbush ruled that a bishop does not own parish property but rather holds them in trust. In sum, the ruling states that parish property does not qualify as diocesan assets and it cannot be sold by the bishop to cover diocesan expenses.

“Judge Quackenbush’s ruling was not only helpful to us, but also sends a good message to the whole country as to how we look at parish property in the Catholic Church,” Bishop Skylstad wrote.

The bishop also estimated that $7 million could be raised from other Catholic groups.

At that point, diocesan resources will be exhausted, the bishop said.

“If any additional monies are needed for the final settlement, I will have to ask for the financial support of the parishioners,” he stated. “At this point in time, that amount is unknown, although there is certainly a limit to what parishes can contribute to a feasible final plan.”

Bishop Skylstad reiterated that his primary concern remains the victims. "They have been hurt. Trust has been broken. Healing and reconciliation are crucial considerations. As we travel this very expensive journey, I hope no one in our diocese will blame the victims.”

“To the very best of our ability, we must make sure that sexual abuse will never occur again. Already in place are codes of conduct, safe-environment training, and protocols for handling abuse when it occurs. This is no small matter,” he continued. “As we make certain that ministry occurs in within the context of a safe environment, the demands on ministers and volunteers are considerable.”

He also urged the faithful, “to take the high road in relationships and in conversation that is respectful and humble.”

Lawyers for the diocese and the victims participated in one day of settlement talks Friday, in Reno, Nev., and more talks are scheduled for the week of Aug. 21, in Spokane, reported the Associated Press. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams reportedly told participants not to disclose the content of the talks.