Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Diocese makes cuts, asks for donations to pay for sexual abuse settlement

A $198 million settlement in 2007 ended years of litigation against the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, but the church continues to feel the effects of the sexual abuse scandal.

Victim advocates say those who suffered sexual abuse may never completely heal. Meanwhile, the settlement's financial costs have begun to affect church projects, among them a plan to build a new Catholic high school in northern San Diego County. Land that the church once viewed as a potential site for the campus will be sold, with the proceeds going to help pay the settlement, a diocese official said.

$198M settlement reached

On Feb. 27, 2007, the eve of the first trial in San Diego of a sexual abuse lawsuit, the diocese filed for bankruptcy. The move started months of legal wrangling in U.S. bankruptcy court over diocesan assets, accounting, how best to determine what amounts victims should receive and accusations that the diocese was trying to dodge a multimillion-dollar settlement.

The diocese and 144 abuse victims reached a settlement agreement in September 2007 that resulted in a dismissal of the bankruptcy case. The San Diego diocese is to pay $153 million to settle 111 cases involving its priests and $30 million for 22 cases involving members of Catholic orders, autonomous religious groups whose members occasionally serve in a diocese. The settlement also includes $15 million to be paid by the San Bernardino diocese, which used to be part of the San Diego diocese, and calls for the release of personnel files regarding abusive priests.

Gabrielle Azzaro of Cardiff, a leader in the San Diego chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the files need to be released so people know whether any sex offenders are still working in the diocese or elsewhere in positions where they could victimize someone else.

A lingering toll

Although the settlement worked out well for victims from a financial standpoint -- each is to receive, on average, $1.4 million -- victims never heal emotionally, said Paul Livingston, another leader in the victims group.

A San Diego resident, Livingston was a plaintiff in one of the sexual abuse lawsuits against the Los Angeles diocese, which also reached a settlement in 2007 with hundreds of abuse victims. The largest Catholic diocese in the nation, the Los Angeles diocese agreed to pay a record $660 million to settle lawsuits brought by 508 sexual abuse victims.

Livingston said he was abused by a janitor at a Catholic school, and that he used to go through cycles of depression that would last between three and nine months.

Although those cycles still occur, they usually only last a day or two, Livingston said.

"You go back to your childhood and you start treating everybody around you like they did something to you," Livingston said. "Walls go up. You don't want to leave your house or do anything. ... Your relationships are forever damaged."

In announcing the settlement in September, San Diego Bishop Robert Brom acknowledged the suffering of victims and asked for their forgiveness. In a prepared statement, the bishop also apologized to the abused and their families, and said he hoped the settlement would begin a healing process for them.

Planned school affected

Insurance will cover about $75 million of the amount the San Diego diocese must pay. The diocese began a campaign, known as "Embracing Our Mission," in October asking for contributions from everyone in the diocese to raise $25 million to put toward the settlement. Property sales are expected to bring in an additional $45 million, according to documents on the diocese's Web site.

Among the property being sold is a 38-acre parcel in Oceanside that once was envisioned as a site for a Catholic high school.

A committee of parish pastors and other leaders decided in 2005 that the Oceanside site was too far west and that another was needed for the school.

The diocese said it had planned to use the Oceanside property in a trade for land elsewhere, but that that was no longer possible because of the settlement, diocese Chancellor Rodrigo Valdivia said.

That decision hasn't sat well with some Catholics. Charles S. Smith, 69, of Pauma Valley, a semi-retired physician who helped start a Catholic school in San Marcos in the 1980s, said the decision to use the Oceanside land and money for the settlement "seems a little unfair for the parents and children of North County."

However, the abuse victims deserve to receive the money they will get from the settlement, Smith said.

"These poor victims deserve -- I think and I think most Catholics in the county would say -- they deserve what they're getting," Smith said. "Is it fair all these innocent Catholics are going to have to sacrifice? I suppose it isn't, but it is what it is. ... It's a tragedy. When there's a tragedy, everybody suffers."
Other Diocesan programs cut

The Diocesan Pastoral Center also has cut staff and programs by more than $1 million a year, which represents more than 15 percent of the center's operating budget, Valdivia said in an e-mail.

Reorganizing staff and office assignments, attrition and layoffs will cut 18 staff positions by Dec. 31, Valdivia said in an e-mail.

In response to additional questions sent to him in an e-mail, Valdivia wrote that the amount the San Diego diocese must pay "will have a significant and painful impact on the Church," but that hundreds of thousands of people continue to celebrate Mass every week at the 98 parishes in the diocese and that thousands of children still attend Catholic schools within the diocese. Baptisms, weddings, funerals and other church-related events continue as well, Valdivia wrote.

The 2007 Catholic Directory for the diocese counted about 980,000 Catholics, Valdivia said via e-mail. The diocese includes parishes in San Diego and Imperial counties.

By mid-December, Valdivia said, the "Embracing Our Mission" campaign had received $1.5 million in contributions. That's less than 6 percent of what the diocese hopes to raise to pay toward the settlement.

"We're appreciative of the generosity of the people, and we believe it is in line with what we expected," Valdivia said in a telephone interview. "We know we'll have to continue other efforts."

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is quite sickening to think that after all the hurts and cover ups of the Church regarding abuse over the last half century it is ultimately the ordinary members of the Church who are asked to put their hands into their pockets and pay for the compensation or the shortfall in the Churches coffers.

It beggers belief almost that they have such a hard neck to ask hard pressed Parishioners but then the Parishioners have been paying this compensation for years in collections while not being told the truth about where a lot of their contributions were going. Had they known I doubt they would have been so generous.

It is also hypocritical to think members of the Church have to pay a small fortune for legal representation to take legal actions against the Church while the Priests have insurance policies to pay all their legal costs with the heavy premiums for such policies paid for by the money dropped into the collections for the day to day running of the particular Parishes.

Something seems very rotten throughout the whole system of finances in the Church yet most Parishes never stop handing around the begging bowl often for unnecessary things that the Parishioners do not want but are asked to fund.