The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Release
Victims urge bishop “avoid bankruptcy”
SNAP: “It’s a convenient but hurtful cop out”
8 US dioceses have sought Chapter 11 protection
But group doubts diocesan claims of financial hardship
It prods Braxton:“Open the books to an independent auditor”
And it says Catholic officials should, if need be, seek funds elsewhere
“Before acting, at least hold open meetings with your flock,” group asks
Bankruptcy can deter victims, witnesses & whistleblowers from speaking up, SNAP believes
Late last month, the Illinois Supreme Court essentially upheld a 2008 jury verdict ordering the Belleville diocese to pay $5 million in damages to an abuse victim, largely because of overwhelming evidence that church officials ignored and concealed horrific child sex crimes by Fr. Raymond Kownacki. (The court chose not to hear Bishop Edward Braxton’s appeal to overturn the jury verdict.)
While Braxton has appealed, another $1.35 million in interest has accrued. Interest continues to pile up at a rate of $1,200 a day. At least two more civil cases involving Kownacki are pending.
Still, SNAP seriously doubts Braxton’s assertion that the diocese is hurting financially. (A witness in the 2008 trial testified that the diocese earns more than $1 million annually just on interest. And most dioceses have ample insurance coverage that pays for the overwhelming bulk of clergy sex payouts.) Until the bishop “comes clean” about all church finances – stocks, bonds, property, insurance coverage and other assets – SNAP feels it is naïve for parishioners and the public to believe Braxton’s cries of “poverty.”
The group feels that talk of “tough finances” by church officials is often “posturing” designed to deter victims from coming forward and tricking victims in litigation into settling for small sums.
If the diocese is short on funds, SNAP believes Braxton should exhaust all other means of raising or borrowing money to resolve other clergy sex abuse cases. (In 2002, Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law borrowed millions from a Catholic men’s group, the Knights of Columbus, to settle with hundreds of victims.)
SNAP wants Braxton to (1) let truly independent auditors examine church finances, (2) if need be, borrow and raise additional funds to fairly resolve all sex abuse cases, and, (3) if he’s considering Chapter 11, to hold open public meetings in each region (“deaneries”) across the diocese, giving Catholics an opportunity to voice their concerns about the process.
Other dioceses have sought bankruptcy protection, including Milwaukee, Phoenix, Spokane, Davenport and San Diego.
In May, the New York-based Christian Brothers, a large Catholic religious order, became the latest church institution to declare bankruptcy, in response to clergy sex abuse and cover up cases in Washington state.
Kownacki’s victims are represented by attorney Mike Weilmuenster (618 257 2222).
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests