Saturday, September 04, 2010

New Spokane bishop installed

Bishop Blase Cupich on Friday was installed as the sixth leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane, leading an office that has been financially battered by the priest sex abuse scandal.

Cupich, 61, was appointed in June to replace retiring Bishop William Skylstad, former head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a key figure in the church's response to lawsuits from sex abuse victims.

Skylstad made the controversial decision in 2004 to take the Spokane Diocese into bankruptcy court as lawsuits piled up, and a $48 million settlement was reached in 2007.

But the diocese said earlier this week that continuing lawsuits may force it to sell churches to pay victims.

However, Cupich's installation at Gonzaga University on Friday morning will now focus on creating a better future for the diocese.

Over 30 bishops from throughout the U.S. attended the ceremony, including Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.

Cupich for 12 years has been leader of the Diocese of Rapid City in South Dakota, serving 30,000 Catholics in a broad area. The Spokane Diocese has some 90,000 Catholics in about 80 parishes.

Regarding the economic challenges, Cupich said when he was appointed that he was used to working with scarce resources in South Dakota.

"It's about mission, not money," he said. "If you get the mission right, money follows."

Cupich was an early leader in battling sex abuse, adopting a "zero tolerance" policy for clergy in his diocese. He is chairman of the Bishops' Committee on the Protection for Children and Young People.

Cupich was born in 1949, in Omaha, Neb., one of nine children to Blase and Mary Cupich. He earned a degree in philosophy from the University of St. Thomas, a Catholic school in St. Paul, Minn. He studied in Rome for a second degree in sacred theology before earning a master's in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University.

He was ordained in 1975, serving in Omaha. In 1981, Cupich was appointed secretary of the Nunciature of the United States, the diplomatic mission of the Vatican in Washington, D.C., during the tenure of Pope John Paul II. He was also president of Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.

Skylstad, 76, has been bishop of Spokane since 1990. He was elected vice president of the influential U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2001, and in 2004 began a three-year term as president.

"Although these years have not been without challenges, it has been a time of great joy in my life," Skylstad said in announcing his retirement.

Church members have already contributed $10 million to the $48 million settlement designed to pay about 180 sex abuse claims. Insurers contributed to the settlement, and the diocese sold its chancery, farmland and bishop's residence to raise funds.

But new claims of abuse that occurred decades ago continue to be filed, approved and paid, draining a special $1 million fund that must be replenished.

The diocese has contended in court documents that many of the new claims are bogus and should not have to be paid.


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