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

Paying for the settlement: ‘We are a community of compassionate, caring, loving, and forgiving Catholics’

by Paul McNabb

(From the May 3, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

With the Diocese of Spokane having achieved settlement on compensation and other steps toward reparation with victims of clergy abuse, we now must individually look within ourselves to see how we can share in this healing process.

We are asked to help our parishes raise $10 million to apply to the $48 million bankruptcy reorganization settlement. Raising these funds and paying this debt is the right thing to do and a step that will lead to a stronger, more financially sound Church of Eastern Washington.

For, as members of the Body of Christ, we are one Church, one community. If we believe this, we will accept the teaching of St. Paul who told the Corinthians the parts of the Body should have concern for one another. “You are Christ’s Body and individually parts of it.” And, he said, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.”

In our diocese, Christ’s body has been feeling the suffering of its parts. Abuse victims have suffered and will continue to suffer. Abusers suffer with their own devils. The rest of the Body of Christ suffers with the ugliness of abuse and struggles with how reparation should be made.

We share in this reparation because we are a community of compassionate, caring, loving and forgiving Catholics. It is unfortunate this abuse had little public voice or action 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago. Now we need to heal the wounded by facing the obligation we have before us.

That obligation comes from extensive negotiations under protection of the bankruptcy court. It was correct to use that court to resolve the complex issues surrounding abuse claims and to reorganize the financial practices of the diocese. It was not to protect the bishop personally or prevent anyone’s testimony. The bankruptcy alternative was a series of trials, with costly defenses and uncertain results and without the protections built into the final agreements we now have. Yes, legal expenses of bankruptcy have been massive, but so would be the alternatives.

When we complete this financial reparation with abuse victims, we will have justly compensated them as best we can.

We will have ensured the future mission of the Church as best we can.

We will have set the financial operations of the diocese down a more stable path, with greater protection of day-to-day business, such as the deposit and loan program, priest retirement, parish organization and more.

We will have sent a message to our clergy that we care for and support them, for they suffer from the abusive practices of a few of their past comrades and they unjustly endure finger-pointing and suspicion.

We will have cleared the slate for new diocesan leadership that will come with the nearing retirement of Bishop William Skylstad. His successor should inherit the position free of the encumbrances of this abuse crisis. He will be challenged enough to rebuild and reenergize the Catholic Church of Eastern Washington.

We will have greater protection for our children, due not only to recent exposure of past clergy abuse, but owing to steps put in place when Bishop Skylstad became Apostolic Administrator of the Spokane Diocese in 1989 and installed as bishop in April 1990.

In 1989, he set in operation the “Administrative Policies for Responding to Allegations of Sexual Abuse and Inappropriate Behavior by Church Personnel,” drafted by the diocesan Sexual Abuse Committee.

In 1990, the Diocesan School Board began requiring criminal history information, along with a Washington State Patrol background check for all school employees and volunteers.

In 1991, diocesan-wide sexual awareness training began for all diocesan pastoral employees, and that was later expanded to all diocesan employees.

Seminary candidates are psychologically screened to ensure, as far as possible, that they are acceptable as future priests.

These and other steps toward a cleaner and safer church environment appear to have been effective, as there has been no credible claim of any Catholic clergy abuse being committed in this diocese from 1991 to the present.

So, can parishes raise $10 million? Yes. The money is there. Catholics have shown great generosity in times of crisis. If our churches were struck by disaster, such as an earthquake, I am certain our church members would generously step up to repair our buildings. But an earthquake of sorts has struck. It has mentally and physically damaged Church members, ruptured Church credibility, shaken our trust and left many of our faithful out in the cold.

Now we must drop our grief and anger and show compassion and forgiveness. We need to give thanks for what we have and this opportunity to rebuild our Catholic Church of Eastern Washington. We can do this by digging more deeply into our resources. The key word will be “sacrifice.” Our churches were built through the sacrifice of many generous donors who made long-term financial pledges on top of their weekly contributions to parish operations. We now must make our sacrifices to resolve this obligation and move forward.

I am sure this is what Christ is asking of us.

(McNabb is a member of the Bishop’s Finance Council.)

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