Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Moving ahead"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Jan. 18, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

More than two years after we sought Chapter 11 relief for the diocese because of the pending financial impact of sexual abuse claims, an agreement on a consensual plan of reorganization was filed on Jan. 4. It has been a long, arduous, complex process. Yet, as I have stated from the beginning of these proceedings, our intent was two-fold: first, to address the plight of all the victims in a just manner; and secondly, to continue the mission of our local church in the Catholic Diocese of Spokane.

The Chapter 11 process has allowed us to encourage all the victims to come forward so that we could respond to their injury. That process brought forward far more victims than I could ever have imagined. We all must admit we were blind to the unbelievable number of children whose lives were harmed by this abuse. Compounding the tragedy was the failure of Church leadership to appropriately recognize and address the abuse in a timely fashion. I am grateful that so many victims have come forward to help church leadership recognize and confront the extent of the damage that has been done by those who had pledged themselves to present Christ to the world. I am grateful as well to the victims who have allowed the Church to assist them in their difficult and painful journey toward wholeness.

Only the victims know the pain and hurt they have experienced. I can only express sorrow for what happened and ask for their forgiveness. Their injured souls have a unique claim on the generosity of the Body of Christ.

In the legal process, there were five major interests represented before the Court: the Tort Litigants Committee, the Tort Claimantsí Committee, the Future Claims Representative, the Association of Parishes, and finally, the Catholic Diocese of Spokane. A tremendous amount of work has taken place over the past few months by all parties and their attorneys involved to reach agreement on the consensual plan of reorganization. If approved by the Court, this plan will resolve the claims made against the diocese and lead us out of Chapter 11. I am very grateful to everyone who has brought us to this point in time. It is indeed a significant moment. A great deal of work remains, but we now have a roadmap to provide direction as we seek Judge Williamsí final approval.

As a diocesan family, we need to express special gratitude to Judge Gregg Zive, the chief federal bankruptcy judge in the State of Nevada, who graciously accepted the appointment as federal mediator in this complex situation. As he indicated in his comments about our situation, this has been one of the most complex issues he has ever mediated. Yet, through the legal system, we have been able to bring a sense of order and justice to this matter. Legal assistance is costly. Yet in my judgment, there was no other way to achieve justice in a fair manner.

Some have wondered why we should address the injury of victims and be responsible for the harm when the abuse happened decades ago. We are a Catholic Church both horizontally and vertically. Horizontally, we strive to be a community of faith in parish, in our diocese, and with the Church Universal here and now. But we are also a Church community vertically. This is a reality we know well, in our tradition of the Communion of Saints. Each year on All Saints Day and All Souls Day we celebrate our relationships with all those who have walked the journey before us. We live our faith in a spirit that is past, present and future.

This vertical approach with its responsibility for past sin was made very real during the jubilee year of 2000 when Pope John Paul II apologized again and again and asked for forgiveness for the disgraceful acts the Church committed in the past. Some of those events were centuries ago. We are connected to our past as individuals and as a community of faith. As the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, we want to make right to the best of our ability the crimes of abuse against minors that occurred in our midst in the past.

In addition to addressing the wrongs of the past and continuing the mission, we will insist that ministry in the Church in the future will take place in a safe environment for our children. The Catholic Church in the United States has been engaged in a massive effort, through safe environment training for all personnel working and volunteering in the Church, to implement The Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth. That Charter, in effect since the summer of 2002 and further refined just recently, provides direction for every diocese, parish and institution in the country to provide safety for our young people. Audits of the diocesesí compliance with the Charter will continue on into the future, to make sure that the Charter continues to be implemented. It will never again be business as usual.

The hope of the acceptance of a consensual plan that all the parties could live with has come to fruition. Now we have to move forward to implement what we have proposed, with this as a continuing part of our new mission. This will take a good number of years. It will challenge our generosity. I am very sorry that the parishes will have to carry the burden of $10 million dollars. It pains me personally that the assets of the diocese are all gone and that our Cemeteries and other institutions must take money from their missions to fund this plan. But I believe this plan makes it possible to continue our mission. We will limp at the beginning, but we will continue to live and preach the Gospel.

During the past four years, we as a diocesan family have been through a painful and difficult experience as we have come to acknowledge the large number of victims of sexual abuse, primarily at the hands of clergy. This history will continue to have an impact on all of us for years to come. We as a diocesan family must especially have a sense of compassion for the victims. Those who are perpetrators also need our prayers. The consequences of sin and weakness are never easily dealt with. I pray that we will continue to deal honestly with our past. This is a part of our mission.

But healing is also in the future. We are a Catholic people building for the future with hope. The virtue of hope is an attitude of mind, believing Divine Providence is with us and the Holy Spirit will guide us. Basically like faith, hope is a leap into the unknown; not in a naÔve, foolish manner, but with hearts and minds alert as to how we all fulfill our responsibilities as disciples of the Lord Jesus. It is his mission. Let us begin!

May Godís peace be with all of you.

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