Sunday, July 29, 2007

Diocese editorial decries lawsuits alleging sex abuse

The official newspaper of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport said in an editorial published Thursday that its sympathy for people abused by priests was "strained'' by the lawsuits filed by those alleged victims.

"Repairing the past is essential work, but if it comes at a cost of depleting resources for the future, we the people of the church and our local communities are the ones hurt,'' the editorial in The Catholic Messenger states.

Bishop Martin Amos is the publisher of the weekly newspaper, and its editorials are intended to reflect the views of the diocese, editor Barb Arland-Fye said.

Mike Uhde of Davenport, who was awarded $1.5 million by a Scott County jury for the abuse he suffered by a diocese priest, said the editorial was not surprising.

The diocese may be sympathetic "on some level,'' he said, "but that sympathy is quickly overridden in every case I've seen by their desire to protect their secrets and to protect their assets.''

The diocese, which includes about 105,000 Catholics, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October in the face of mounting lawsuits from its clergy sexual abuse scandal.

A total of 153 people have filed abuse claims in the bankruptcy case, said Uhde, who is chairman of the case's creditors committee. Those come on top of the 43 cases previously settled for about $10 million, according to the Associated Press.

The diocese will liquidate all its assets, currently totaling $12.5 million, to pay its creditors.

The Catholic Messenger editorial, which also addresses abuse scandals in Boston and Los Angeles, says it does not lack sympathy for victims and their families.

"Our sympathy is strained, though, when the drive for money as compensation looks more like blind lashing-out punishment of the church as a whole,'' it says.

Arland-Fye, who did not write the piece, said she interpreted that sentence as criticism of lawyers trying to benefit from the scandal by filing lawsuits.

She said the editorial - which includes the line, "We've been shocked, shaken and stirred to pity for victims . . .'' -- clearly supports the abused.

Uhde said the victims' lawyers in the Davenport diocese case are not in it for the money. "They are very, very interested in getting to the truth and holding the guilty accountable,'' he said.

The Catholic Messenger's editorial board includes Arland-Fye, laypeople and clergy members.

Bishop Amos is not on the editorial board, and Arland-Fye would not say whether the bishop reviews editorials before they are published.

"I consult with the bishop on a regular basis, I guess that's what I'd like to say,'' she said.

Diocese spokesman Deacon David Montgomery declined comment, citing an agreement with the creditors committee not to talk about the case.

Richard Davidson, the diocese's bankruptcy attorney, did not return a call seeking comment.

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