Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Parish Rights Association born from Oct. 28 forum at St. John Vianney

the Inland Register

(From the Nov. 11, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Affirming the identity and rights accorded them by the Code of Canon [Church] Law of the Roman Catholic Church, church leaders from throughout the Catholic Diocese of Spokane participated at their own initiative in an Oct. 28 forum at St. John Vianney Parish, Spokane Valley, which focused on response to litigation underway as the result of the sexual abuse by priests.

All 47 canonical pastors in the diocese, as well as appointed lay parish administrators and heads of what Church Law identifies as “juridic persons,” were invited. Thirty-two individuals attended.

Catholic Church law identifies individual parishes and certain other bodies (for example, Bishop White Seminary) as juridic persons. The parish or institution itself thereby enjoys certain rights and obligations vis-à-vis the local bishop.

At least in one major case, litigation over the sexual abuse by priests soon will reach a critical negotiation stage regarding financial settlement. Attendees at this ad hoc meeting of canonical pastors unanimously expressed a deep desire that these negotiations – and any future negotiations – be fruitful in providing some measure of healing and a just compensation for victims of sexual abuse. Participants noted the failure of similar negotiations in the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., and the Diocese of Tucson, Ariz., and the resultant need for the bishops in those two dioceses to appeal to the reorganization protection of Chapter 11 in federal bankruptcy court.

Responding to concerns increasingly voiced by the faithful in their respective areas of pastoral ministry, participants in this ad hoc meeting of Spokane Diocese canonical pastors took steps in preparation for mounting collective legal action in defense of the rights of their constituents to monies and/or properties which they have provided in support of the ministries and physical needs of their respective parishes or other juridic persons.

Participants affirmed the significant difference between the legal entity known as The Catholic Bishop of Spokane, Corporation Sole, and the parishes and other juridic persons identified by the Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church. They further affirmed that the funds and properties directly associated with them as juridic persons are critical to the on-going mission of the Catholic Church in Eastern Washington. While not challenging the authority of their bishop, the participants firmly asserted that these funds and properties differ substantially in origin and/or purpose from those explicitly under his managerial oversight.

Recognizing the distinct possibility of needing to defend this position before the court if appeal is made to the protection of Chapter 11, participants called for the formation of a body titled “Parish Rights Association” (PRA). This group, as approved by participants, is to be composed of pastors, parish administrators and heads of juridic persons – as well as a layperson selected from each of the participating parishes or entities. The PRA will select its leadership and conduct affairs according to its own by-laws which must be consistent with the Church’s Code of Canon Law. Of necessity, the PRA will be assisted by legal counsel.

Participants in this ad hoc meeting of canonical pastors expressed sadness over the need to have to prepare for this additional layer of litigation not only because of its expense to the faithful, but especially because it further postpones badly needed healing and reconciliation in the current situation. They noted that the formation of the PRA is made necessary as the result of the litigation process itself. Participants asserted that their actions do not reflect any effort to avoid a just resolution to the scandal of sexual abuse by priests. In fact, they recognized that an appeal to the reorganization process provided by Chapter 11 might be the only and best way by which the faithful in Catholic Diocese of Spokane can continue their mission to others and at the same time address responsibly the just compensation of all victims of abuse.

At the conclusion of their ad hoc meeting, the participants recommitted themselves to foster a Christian community of faith which is founded on loving respect, compassion and especially forgiveness. They pledged to continue to work and pray sincerely for the healing of the harm and hurt which has resulted from the horrendous sin of sexual abuse as well as from the additional pain suffered by all parties engaged in litigation. They asked God for the healing which only he can bring to repentant and broken hearts.

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