Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Report #11 on the Springtime of Vatican II

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Accusers call PDX archdiocese plan inadequate

02:28 PM PST on Tuesday, November 15, 2005

By WILLIAM McCALL, Associated Press Writer

The Archdiocese of Portland has proposed placing an overall $40 million limit on damages that can be paid to alleged victims of priest sex abuse as part of its bankruptcy organization plan, an attorney for victims said Tuesday.

The proposed limit is a fraction of more than $400 million that is being sought by people who say they were abused by priests.

David Slader, an attorney for alleged victims, contended the proposed reorganization plan would pit victims against each other for a share of the settlement money and allow the church to cover up most of the abuse by avoiding public trials.

"This plan, which has taken a year and a half to put together, is a step backwards," Slader said.

He noted that nearly $9 million would go to claims already settled but not yet paid, leaving only about $32 million to share among more than 100 pending claims.

Slader said the limit would discourage alleged victims from going to trial and encourage them to instead settle their claims out of court.

Victims who ask for a trial would run the risk of seeing the remaining $32 million in the proposed settlement fund depleted before the case ever gets to the jury, he said.

"If you set up a fixed fund, you effectively take away the right to a jury trial because whoever exercises that right, with the years that will take and appeals that the archdiocese can pursue, will end up with nothing," Slader said.

Archdiocese officials said they could not comment on the reorganization plan until it is filed, which was not expected until late Tuesday. It likely would not be available to the public until Wednesday, according to Bud Bunce, archdiocese spokesman.

Slader and other attorneys involved in the case have negotiated over details in the plan but had only discussed a draft. The deadline for the final proposal to be filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court was Tuesday.

In July of last year, the Portland Archdiocese became the first in the nation to file for bankruptcy because of lawsuits by parishioners who say when they were youths they were sexually abused by priests. Two other dioceses filed for bankruptcyafterward, but both have already filed reorganization plans.

In Arizona, the Diocese of Tucson has already emerged from bankruptcy after setting up a settlement trust with more than $22 million to pay alleged victims while the Diocese of Spokane in Washington state has offered to sell its headquarters and the home of Bishop William Skylstad to help settle claims.

The Portland case has become a complex legal battleground for the alleged sex abuse victims, Catholic parishes and schools, insurance companies and the church.

The key issue is ownership of church property, and whether it belongs to the archdiocese or to the individual parishes and schools.

The issue was largely avoided in the Arizona settlement, and still has not been determined for either the Spokane diocese or the Portland archdiocese.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris had scheduled a series of hearings on the case Tuesday.


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