Rare Kind of Scandal Accord in Spokane Diocese
By SARAH KERSHAW - The New York Times
February 2, 2006
SEATTLE, Feb. 1 The Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Wash.,
one of three in the country to have filed for bankruptcy in the
aftermath of the sexual abuse scandals, agreed Wednesday to pay
nearly $46 million to settle claims by 75 people who allege abuse
by priests, lawyers involved in drawing up the settlement said.
If approved by a bankruptcy court and the plaintiffs, the agreement
will provide one of the largest payouts per victim of any of the
settlements reached across the nation since the church encountered
crisis in 2002 with disclosure of abuse in the Boston Archdiocese.
But victims' advocacy groups and lawyers familiar with the agreement's
details said it was also significant because it included rare nonfinancial
concessions by Bishop William S. Skylstad.
Among those concessions is an agreement by the diocese to stop
referring to "alleged victims" of priests' abuse rather
than simply "victims," said Tim Kosnoff, one of the plaintiffs'
lawyers. The victims, Mr. Kosnoff said, are to be allowed to return
to the parishes where they came into contact with their molesters
and possibly face them, a provision that victims' groups said appeared
to be a first. They will also be permitted to write about their
experiences in the diocesan newspaper, with a full page devoted
to that purpose each month for the next three years.
Further, Mr. Kosnoff said, the bishop will lobby state lawmakers
to abolish statutes of limitations on child sex crimes and will
go to every parish where any plaintiff was abused, tell the parishioners
that an abusive priest had ministered there and encourage them to
report any suspicions of abuse.
Diocesan officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment
Wednesday. But at a televised news conference, Bishop Skylstad,
who is also president of the United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops, said, "To those of you who say this settlement will
be a burden, I would say that this scandal is a burden we can no
longer afford not to resolve."
The bishop apologized to the victims in his 82-parish diocese "for
the terrible wrongs inflicted on you in the past."
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those
Abused by Priests, based in Chicago, said the nonfinancial "prevention
and healing reforms are unusual and encouraging."
Mr. Clohessy, who was in Spokane on Wednesday and said he had read
most of the settlement's details, added, "It's very tough to
get bishops to agree to much of anything else, to say, 'Look, you
were hurt,' " rather than " 'You've got us over a barrel,
here's some money, go away.' "'
In addition to the Spokane Diocese, which sought bankruptcy protection
in 2004, the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., and the Diocese of Tucson,
Ariz., have also filed for bankruptcy in the face of costly sexual
In the Portland and Spokane cases, judges have ruled that all parish
and church buildings are legal assets, after the dioceses argued
that other than the chancelleries and other main buildings, they
did not technically own those properties.
Those rulings were important, Mr. Clohessy said, because they vastly
increased the assets considered available for payments to plaintiffs
seeking compensation for sexual abuse.
A federal judge in Portland ruled last month that trials involving
as many as 100 plaintiffs there could move forward. The Tucson Diocese
reached a $22.2 million settlement last summer.