Davenport’s Catholic Diocese is filing for bankruptcy. The diocese was ordered last month to pay one-and-a-half million dollars to a Davenport man molested by a priest years ago, and the Bishop said last night that settling the suits already decided would burn through all the church’s assets and there’d be no money left for future claims yet to be filed.
David Montgomery, a spokesman for the diocese, has spent this morning in meetings. The reactions have been mixed. Montgomery says for the most part they’ve been sad, though favorable. He says a lot of people have been praying. Montgomery says some are against the decision the diocese made, but he says church officials think it’s the right thing to do.
Many other churches around the country have been successfully sued by victims of priest abuse, but fewer than half-a-dozen have taken the step of declaring bankruptcy. Montgomery says the leaders of the Davenport diocese consulted with them before making its decision. There are two primary reasons for the decision Montgomery says — first, fairness to victims of abuse.
Without the bankruptcy, he says the first victims who’ve come forward would have their court judgments paid but there’d be no money for those who come later.
The second reason is that court awards to victims so far total more than seven-million dollars. He says the diocese assets total six million.
With more lawsuits pending right now, diocese officials say it would be more fair to those with cases that still haven’t been heard, to let a bankruptcy court handle the distribution of any damages awarded. Some critics today are saying it’s a dodge, however.
Mike Uhde won a lawsuit over priest sex abuse last month. He says lawyers for him and other victims presented a proposal to let the diocese forgo bankruptcy and settle all the claims, but the church refused. Uhde saw the proposal and the numbers, and he says they had the assets to pay the claims up to now and set up a fund for the future. So why not do it?
Udhe told reporters in Davenport today (Wednesday) that he thinks he knows. “Because of the bar date,” Uhde says. He charges they’re going to block any future claims and end their financial responsibility for anybody who comes forward charging anything happened to them “before yesterday.”
Amy Green with Davenport-based “Catholics for Spiritual Healing” says they begged Bishop William Franklin to open his financial records and hold open meetings with parishioners in the diocese before deciding to seek bankruptcy protection, but got no response. Green says now the concern is that there may be a time limit for any other abuse survivors to come forward.
Green says survivors only become able to acknowledge their abuse and to act on it in their own time. She says they cannot be forced into “some sort of deadline that’s been set for the convenience of the diocese” to ask for help. She says victims and witnesses should keep coming forward no matter what happens.
Montgomery says the diocese parishes and schools are separate corporations on paper, so they’re not included in the bankruptcy. “The parishioners will not see much change in their own parishes and schools,” Montgomery says. The Chancery, however, will need to reduce its budget by about one-third. Montgomery says 70-percent of the budget comes from churchgoer donations in the annual diocesan appeal, so they’re hammering out a reorganization plan that will define “how we expect to survive this bankruptcy.”