Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"A time of grace and blessing"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the June 14, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Thursday afternoon, May 31, 4:10 p.m., was a significant, historical moment in our dio-cese. That was the time when we as a diocese officially emerged from bankruptcy protec-tion. Dec. 4, 2004, was another significant moment as we declared Chapter 11. But this unique journey, though not to be envied, has come to a successful conclusion as we now move ahead. I am greatly relieved, and deeply grateful.

I do not need to go into details of what happened and why. I do want to emphasize that we embarked on this process with the intention of treating all victims equally, preserving our mission as church, and making sure this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen again.

Much has transpired these last few years to bring us to this particular moment. I am so very grateful to so many individuals. Father Steve Dublinski, the diocese’s Vicar General and the rector of the Cathedral; Deacon Mike Miller, Secretary for Diocesan Business Affairs; Merrilin Fulton, head of the diocese’s Fiscal Services Office; and Mary Butler, the Victims’ Assistance Coordinator: all have borne the brunt of a tremendous amount of work, far more than normally would be expected of such roles. Their wisdom and expertise are something for which all of us in the diocese need to be grateful.

Several consultative bodies, such as the Presbyteral Council, the Finance Council, and the Diocesan Pastoral Council, were invaluable with their input, processing a lot of significant and developing information. Very weighty decisions with long-term impact had to be made, and the wisdom and insights of the members of these groups were crucial as we moved through the process.

The many gatherings of priests and the several series of regional ministry meetings throughout the diocese provided opportunities for sharing information and for dialogue. With the negative impact of the sexual abuse crisis upon the image of priesthood, the pastors of this diocese have truly felt the heat of the day and comported themselves admirably. I am especially grateful to them as well.

Early on in the Chapter 11 process, the pastors of the parishes established the Association of Parishes (AOP), which met many times over these last few years. Their work in collaboration with the diocese was an invaluable contribution to the emergence from Chapter 11. Bob Hailey, from Deer Park, the Lay Co-Chairman, and Priest Co-Chairman, Father Mike Savelesky, the pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane, were key leaders in the AOP effort.

The tremendous complexity of the legal situation demanded legal expertise that was handled by our lead attorneys, Greg Arpin and Sean Cross. The attorneys representing the AOP, especially John Munding, Ford Elsaesser, and Barry McHugh, were also most helpful. The wisdom and commitment of many framed the settlement which finally resolved this sad chapter in the history of our local Church. This settlement was the work of all the Church. But now, we move on. The settlement must be paid for, and we are in the middle of raising funds for that purpose.

From the very beginning, we have said that a successful conclusion to our Chapter 11 would be painful, and it has been. Yet, I have heard more stories than I can count of those who have processed this special journey in a spiritual way. They have experienced a deepening of their sense of Church. They have shared their spiritual insights that have come from their own experience. Thoughts like, “Jesus died for the sins of others,” and the analogy of our country striving to make up the wrongs perpetrated on the Japanese Americans in World War II, or the American Indians, were shared by many. Others have struggled with the journey, the Church, and the decisions made.

Others have struggled with the journey, the Church, and the decisions made. Given the complexity of the situation, it is not surprising that some have been very critical about my own role as Bishop. The abuse of children is a very emotional issue and is a serious issue. It is understandable that it raises feelings of anger at the Church and Church leadership. And it should! At times I was able to appreciate this criticism as rooted, too, in honest differences of perception about the issues. Local, historical and personal issues have gotten wound together so that at times it is almost impossible to sort out the reality. I ask that you pray with me and for me that we all can accept the fact that this response is not surprising. We need to be patient with and compassionate toward one another.

Several times, I have shared my belief that this experience will ultimately be an opportunity of grace and blessing. In some ways, it already has been. Personally, I now can appreciate the Cross of Jesus in ways I could never have appreciated it before. It has always been my temptation to see life without the Cross as the better way, but it is not. The fruits of carrying the Cross faithfully are mysterious and powerful. Jesus bore the marks of his own crucifixion, marks that ultimately have given life and salvation to all of us. We also bear our very real marks as a result of this experience. That sharing with one another can very definitely strengthen us as the Body of Christ.

We now move into a period of rebuilding, healing, reconciliation, and hopeful expectation for the future. The early Church went about its work of proclaiming the Gospel and being faithful disciples of Jesus. As they did so, the Apostles radiated a spirit of profound faith, joy, and openness to the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s work was made manifest in and through them. May that sign of God working in our midst also give witness to the presence of Jesus within and amongst us.

May God’s peace and joy be with all of you.

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