Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Bishop Skylstad, diocesan leadership share detailed information during Regional Ministry meetings
by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register
(From the May 3, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
For several years, Bishop Skylstad and his staff have traveled to the seven regions of the diocese for a series of meetings with the staff of Catholic parishes, schools, and other ministries.
Often, the meeting schedule is spread over months. This year’s meetings began Feb. 13, at St. John Vianney Parish in Spokane Valley, and concluded March 15 at Our Lady of the Valley Parish, Okanogan. Other meetings were held at St. Gall Parish, Colton (Feb. 15); St. Thomas More Parish, Spokane (Feb. 22); Assumption Parish, Walla Walla (Feb. 27); Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Spokane (March 1); and St. Mary of the Rosary Parish, Chewelah (March 13).
In years past, the Regional Ministry meetings have been held during office hours. This year’s meetings were scheduled for the evening hours – each began at 7 p.m. – specifically so that members of parish advisory bodies also could take part – parish pastoral councils, finance councils, school boards.
The Catholic Pastoral Center, located across Madison from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in downtown Spokane, is among the assets the diocese has sold, or has offered for sale. (IR photo)
The focus of the 2007 meetings was background information about the settlement of the diocese’s Chapter 11 Reorganization: history; details of the process; potential impact on parishioners.
At each of the meetings, Bishop Skylstad emphasized the importance of sharing the information as widely as possible.
Father Steve Dublinski, Vicar General of the diocese, told the Walla Walla gathering, “We are speaking to you as people of the diocese who need to fully understand what’s happened.”
The meetings were divided into four sections.
First, Bishop Skylstad reported on the history of abuse in the diocese. His report included reading anonymous victims’ first-person accounts of abuse.
He did so, “not to be voyeuristic,” he said, but because the details of abuse, related in the words of the victims, “puts to rest” the misconception that victims were not really harmed. “People were hurt,” he said, “and hurt for the rest of their lives.… It is important (for the diocese) to reach out to these victims and provide justice and healing as best we can.”
Although some criticized him for sharing graphic accounts of abuse, he reminded the gatherings that the details demonstrated the depth of the tragic damage that had been inflicted on the victims.
He also reminded the audiences that locally, the diocese has instituted safe environment training for all employees and volunteers. This special training – which includes students and clergy as well – helps everyone recognize the dangers of abuse. The seminarian program has been strengthened with more testing to make sure future priests are psychologically healthy.
Any priest who abuses even once is removed from ministry, he said. Although that mandate is “controversial” in some quarters, it continues to be in effect, and will be, he said, for the foreseeable future.
“I apologize to the diocese” for the abuse, he said. “Again, I offer apologies,” for the harm done to victims, for the harm done to the Catholic community.
Second, Deacon Mike Miller, Bishop’s Secretary for Diocesan Business Affairs, discussed financial details of the settlement.
Although some continue to second-guess the diocese’s decision to file for Chapter 11 Reorganization, numerous legal counsel agree that the decision was prudent. Ultimately, Chapter 11 would allow the diocese to accomplish two critical goals: treating all victims justly and fairly, while continuing the mission and ministry of the Catholic Church in Eastern Washington.
The diocese’s risk has now been capped by the $48 million settlement, he said. Initial estimates had put the diocese’s risk as high as $200 million before the Chapter 11 filing.
The settlement monies will come from several sources: insurance settlements; parishes; unsecured loans. The sum also includes contributions by other Catholic entities: Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, and the Catholic Cemeteries.
Catholic Charities would not contribute to the settlement directly. The Catholic Charities money will come from two sources: what is called the “Old St. Anne’s” Children and Family Center, which was a property originally titled to the bishop. The property had been used by Catholic Charities at one time (though no longer), even though the title had never been transferred from the diocese to Catholic Charities, which is a separate corporation sole. The second source of Catholic Charities monies will be the organization’s purchase of the Guse Trust from the diocese. That purchase will be funded by a loan from a financial institution, which will be repaid when the trust matures. No funds donated to Catholic Charities whatsoever will be used to purchase the Trust or contribute to the settlement.
The diocese also would sell its few assets. As Bishop Skylstad has said before, what the Church in Eastern Washington has been given, it has used for ministry. Sold, or to be sold, would be the Catholic Pastoral Center; farmland near Rosalia; a small property in the Spokane Valley; 90-plus acres near the Medical Lake exit from I-90; and the bishop’s residence.
Bishop Skylstad has now moved into the rectory at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes. Diocesan offices will relocate to space rented by the diocese on the third floor of the Catholic Pastoral Center. The diocese also would rent space in the CPC’s basement for the print shop and the vault housing the diocese’s archives.
There are eight classes of creditors seeking financial resolution in the diocese’s Chapter 11. Perhaps the three most important: the parishes who had deposits in the diocese’s Deposit and Loan at the time of filing for Reorganization; the Trade Creditors – businesses (who will be paid in full) to whom the diocese owed money at the time of filing; and sexual abuse claimants.
Unpaid fees from bankruptcy attorneys will be paid first. Payments for plaintiffs’ attorneys are not included in that payment. Attorneys representing victims have separate payment agreements with their clients.
The Spokane Diocese had a Deposit and Loan fund (D&L) – before bankruptcy parishes were required to put their excess operating cash on deposit in the fund. Other parishes borrowed this money with the intention of repaying it at a favorable rate of interest. When the diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, parishes with deposits became creditors of the debtor, and parish loans became assets of the debtor.
Some parishes had significant amounts on deposit in the D&L. Bishop Skylstad has made the public commitment to restore the D&L. Exactly what form that fund will take in the future is not yet decided; a committee of financial experts have been given the task of examining and proposing a new structure for the D&L, said Deacon Miller.
The bishop also has committed to paying the Trade Creditors in full. One of the most significant sums owed to a member of that class is owed to the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City, for payments for Spokane seminarians studying there.
There are 180 individuals who have made claims for sexual abuse. Those claims have been evaluated by a court-appointed reviewer, who assigns a claim to a position in a matrix of compensation, based on circumstances and severity of the abuse.
The diocese also will fund a trust for Future Claims: individuals who, for a variety of reasons, file a claim after the settlement. The diocese will be required to continue to fund that trust for nine years. At the end of those nine years, the victims’ committee will decide distribution of whatever money is not claimed.
The diocese’s web site – http://www.dioceseofspokane.org – includes extensive documentation about the Chapter 11 Reorganization, including the diocese’s Plan of Reorganization – “how you work through the process of reorganizing” – and the diocese’s Disclosure Statement, which details the “nature of finances and financial relationships” of the diocese with other organizations, he said.
Third, Bishop Skylstad spoke to participants about the need for healing within the diocese. “There is a lot of deep hurt within us,” he said Feb. 13 at St. John Vianney.
“Healing is hard work,” he said, “a work that doesn’t happen in an instant, or a day, or a week.” Trying to “move on” without healing from the damage is like trying to ignore an infection that grows from within. He cited Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser’s observation that people have a need “to grieve our losses. As a Catholic community of faith, we’ve had losses: of expectations of what Church should be; expectations of people we have admired over the years; experiencing the deep shadow side of life. We need to grieve that. It has cost us. It has hurt.”
Many parts of the Catholic community have experienced harm: the victims; the priests; the parishes, the parishioners. “How do we make sense out of our experience?” he asked. “This is a cross for all of us. Do we accept it?”
It is clear that the Catholic community of Eastern Washington is in need of healing. Questions surround just what form that healing initiative might take. Yet the Church has a very real opportunity to set an example for the rest of the community – indeed, the nation – “to be sign and witness for healing among ourselves, and the broader world as well…. We cannot let this opportunity pass,” he said. “What is the Lord asking of us? I truly believe this is a time of grace and blessing for us. We never know how the Lord will use us as his instruments.”
The impact of abuse has not been limited to the Church; the issue continues to damage profoundly the larger society as well. By talking about the issue, by trying to do something about it, by educating, by teaching, perhaps the Church can have an impact beyond itself. It is an “opportunity to lead by example,” he said. Sharing information, as during these Regional Ministry meetings, is an important step in that direction. “I don’t know any other organization that would go around and share the kind of information we’ve shared this evening,” he said.
There has been little work done on long-term healing efforts by dioceses, he said. Some things have happened sporadically, but they tended to be momentary, temporary. The Spokane Diocese is trying to take the long view, choosing a course of action that will make the church stronger as we move into the future.
In the diocese, informal groups of laity and priests have been meeting for the last two years to develop strategies and processes for healing. The Center for Organizational Reform (COR) in Spokane has been examining the issue; other groups, including the charismatic renewal community, have expressed interest in being part of the healing process. The Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC), an advisory body consisting of representative clergy and laity from throughout the diocese, has discussed the issue extensively.
“How can we make sense out of our experience?” he asked. “How can I make sense out of my experience? All of us have had an intense experience. It’s not easy. There’s been lots of press, and it’s not been good. It’s hurtful and it’s painful.”
Nevertheless, we are called to fidelity, including fidelity to the Cross. “And the last four years have been a cross,” he said. But it is a cross we must clasp, and a cross for which we must thank God.
Yes, harm has been done to the victims, and the church must ask their forgiveness, he said. But the situation also has touched the people in the pews, “touched our parishes, our diocesan families,” he said. “Harm and hurt have touched our priests, our pastors, very, very significantly.”
He also acknowledged the pain he has experienced himself. He said he was “dumbfounded” at the number of cases of abuse that have been reported to the diocese. “I am terribly saddened by what we’ve experienced – it is so contrary to who I am as a bishop and priest, who we are as a Catholic community. But it has happened. I will make sure it never happens again.”
And, he said, “As painful as this has been, I consider this present moment a grace and blessing for us.”
Fourth, participants were invited to ask questions of Bishop Skylstad and of his staff. Common concerns emerged at almost all of the meetings. Though not all, a number of questions dealt with details of the parishes’ share of the settlement costs. The following is a selection of some of those questions and the responses.
Q. Parishes were told what they would be assessed for their share of the settlement. Can that figure change without our consent?
A. Parishes will be responsible for their pro-rata share of the $10 million commitment based on their percentage share of the goal of the 2006 ACA. It will be up to each parish to raise their share. If they cannot, then those parishes will have to either participate in the group borrowing that is being set up, or seek assistance from one of the more affluent parishes. Each parish will have to work out its own plan.
Q. Can parishes borrow against their properties?
Q. What is the status of funding priest retirement?
A. The bishop has committed to continuing to honor the contract between the diocese and the priests. The monies the diocese held which had been funding a portion of priest retirement were unrestricted funds that could not be protected in the Chapter 11 Reorganization. Much of that fund had come from the estates of priests who had died and left money to the diocese – but not necessarily as restricted funds. Although those funds could not be protected, the contract between the diocese and the retired priests will be honored.
Q. We were told that the ACA goals for parishes would not be raised to pay for the settlement. How do we acquire funding from other organizations/entities? As loans or – ?
A. ACA is tied to parish income. If the parish’s income goes up, its ACA goal rises as well. A number of options are being examined now for additional funding for the Chapter 11 settlement, including grants.
Q. Are any of the perpetrators still being paid by the diocese, through retirement?
A. Yes. Two. The benefits for retired priests, even retired priests who have abused, are a contractual agreement. If we violate that agreement, we could be sued again. We will continue to pay for the time being. The perpetrators will be approached to make a contribution to the settlement. Some already have. The suits will not be settled with the perpetrators themselves. Potentially, those suits against the individuals themselves still could go forward.
Q. Is the diocese insured now?
A. We have insurance through our present provider, Catholic Mutual.
Q. When the parish pays its portion of the settlement, does it receive its title back?
A. The parishes will receive their titles as part of the consensual agreement. However, all the parishes will become security collateral for the $10 million dollar note. This note is joint and severable and the collateral be released upon the full satisfaction of the note.
Q. Will it be possible to sell parish property to come up with our contribution?
A. Some parishes have property they can sell to defray the costs of their share of the settlement. If a parish wants to sell some of its property to satisfy part or all of its share of the $10 million commitment, please email or fax a description of those properties to Deacon Mike Miller. Include the county parcel number if available. If not, give as accurate description as possible or call him at 358-7333. These descriptions need to be excluded from the collateral agreement in the Parish Notes.
Q. Ultimately, who is responsible for the amount each parish owes?
A. The bishop. Any money that’s borrowed, even for the $10 million from the parishes, has to be signed for by the bishop.
Q. Is he responsible as an individual, or is it the Office of the Bishop?
A. The Office. The Catholic Bishop of Spokane is the legal entity.
Q. Are the foundations set up over the years a part of the assets used for this settlement?
Q. If the individual parishes pay their portion of the settlement, where does that money go?
A. Funds paid into the settlement will be deposited in a trust fund set up by the court.
Q. Where is Rome in all of this? Rome is not named in the lawsuit. Why isn’t the Vatican helping out this, and for other dioceses?
A. Contrary to public perception, the Vatican does not have the money to fund settlements.
Q. As the $10 million is raised from the parishes, has any thought been given to using the money that was raised for the new seminary?
A. Contributions to the campaign for seminary education was collected by the Catholic Foundation, a separate legal corporation. That money will be used for the new seminary, not for this settlement. If pledges to that campaign are brought up to date and paid in full, that project will break ground in 2008.
Q. You said the $10 million from parishes has been secured by the properties of all but three parishes. That security will not be released until the entire $10 million goes away. What happens if one parish fulfills its portion and others do not?
A. The assumption is that the diocese will raise as much as it can, and borrow the rest. When the $10 million is paid, by whatever means, the liens on the parishes will be released.
Q. The full $10 million from the parishes will be put in as cash, not as pledges?
Q. If the money a parish had on deposit in the D&L is adequate to their share of the settlement, can they use that to pay their share?
This is under consideration, but may be difficult as the majority of the funds in the D&L are loaned out to other parishes. There may not be enough liquidity in the newly formed D&L to be able to accomplish this.
Q. Bishop, are you willing to go to the parishes and help sell this plan to each and every parishioner so they understand?
A. Yes. This forum is one way to do that.
Q. Money is fine, but what’s going to stop this? Where are the “internal affairs,” boards, examination of trends?
A. The U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and Essential Norms, have been in place, revised, and continue in place, guiding efforts to provide a safe environment for ministry. There is a nationally-guided system of review. Safety precautions are important, but especially important is education of children, of parents, to recognize possibly dangerous behavior patterns. The dioceses continue to be audited in terms of Safe Environment training. That is a massive commitment and massive effort on the part of the Church in the United States, difficult and complex. In November 2006, the bishops approved a new study on the context and causes of sexual abuse. As early as 1989, most dioceses, including Spokane, began removing abusers from ministry. Spokane’s policies have been in place for nearly 20 years now.
Q. Some parishioners still don’t think the church has changed: there are still cover-ups, and perpetrators being moved around. What is being done so that this doesn’t happen again?
A. Every report of abuse made to the diocese is reported immediately to the police. That has been policy for some time. The diocese has had a Review Board in place since 1989 to examine accusations of abuse. The bishops nationally have committed themselves to removing anyone proven to be an abuser, permanently, from ministry, with one proven accusation. Usually, there is not just one case. Diocesan seminarians receive far more psychological screening than ever before.
Q. We all are accepting the consequences of what other people have done. When will the perpetrators accept the consequences of what they’ve done?
A. The abusers have retired or have left ministry. That raises a big question, for the entire country: What should be done with those who have abused? How can society be protected? Nobody wants them in their backyard. On the one hand, we must be sensitive to victims. On the other hand, the abusers are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Who knows what they have gone through in their own lives? The abusers have been named publicly. Many of the abusers are dead; of those living, most have very few financial assets. There’s not much to recover. And the criminal statutes of limitation have long run out on these actions.
Q. What about the criminal statutes of limitation on sexual abuse?
A. Bishop Skylstad has been asked to speak in support of the elimination of the criminal statute of limitations on sexual abuse, and he has done so already.
Q. Does that statute apply just to the Church?
A. It applies to the sexual abuse of minors by anybody. This is not just a “church” problem; it is a societal problem. The U.S. bishops are funding a study on the causes and context of sexual abuse, investing several million dollars in the effort. They are the first organization to fund such a study. Abuse takes place throughout society: by age 12, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 7 boys will have been molested. But most of that abuse happens within the context of family.
Q. The settlement: Was that because of the number of abusers? Because the diocese didn’t react quickly enough? There weren’t enough controls in place, and the diocese couldn’t see it?
A. The initial suits against the diocese were for negligent supervision. The standard for proving negligence in civil proceedings is lower than for criminal negligence. In civil matters, the question to examine is, “Knew or should have known.”
Q. What is the future of the Association of Parishes (AOP)?
A. Ultimately the AOP will not exist. The AOP has been “invaluable” in the Chapter 11 process, said Bishop Skylstad. It was called together for the specific purpose of defending the property rights of the parishes. It has no canonical status and when its mission is complete it will disolve.
Q. What plans does the diocese have to restore trust among the parishes?
A. Tremendous levels of consultation were utilized in making major decisions regarding the diocese. Among the bodies involved were the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Presbyteral (Priests) Council, and the Bishop’s Finance Council, characterized by Bishop Skylstad as groups “that help hold me accountable.” Nationally, the Church has made a “tremendous commitment” to provide a safe environment for children; codes of conduct for ministers; audits that help hold dioceses accountable.
Q. Once a victim’s claim has been assigned to a particular category of the matrix by the claims reviewer, is there any appeal from that determination?
A. Yes. The claimant can make one appeal, to the reviewer alone, if the victim feels pertinent facts were not considered while the decision was made.
Q. Claims will be assigned a position within a matrix, which will determine the level of compensation for a claim. Could that matrix mean that claimants in total actually will be awarded more than the $48 million settlement?
A. If that is the case, those claimants will receive a pro-rated share of the settlement.
Q. Is the situation clear in regard to ownership of parishes?
A. That issue – the “property of the estate” – remains undecided in this bankruptcy. The Plan of Reorganization will make clear that the property of the parishes and the titles to that property will be placed in the newly formed non-profit corporations called the parish. This has the stamp of the Federal Bankruptcy Court in saying that henceforth, that property will be that asset of that corporation and not the Catholic Bishop of Spokane, a Corporation Sole.
Q. What changes are leaders making, particularly in terms of sound and accountable financial practices?
A. How the Church handles financial resources has become increasingly significant of late. There have been tragic reports of financial abuse by some leadership. The dialogue continues about how to safeguard finances, how to assure accountability. Parishes need to look at their financial practices, examine those practices, and realize that bad practices, even though perhaps implemented with good intentions, set you up for failure. As part of the parish re-organization, Deacon Mike Miller will publish a “Best Practices” manual for the financial operation of the parish. It will be available on the diocesan web site at the conclusion of the bankruptcy and reorganization.
Q. Part of the settlement entails non-monetary items involving William Skylstad – not Bishop Skylstad. What happens if Bishop Skylstad is transferred, or no longer here?
A. Bishop Skylstad has less than two years before he submits his mandatory letter of resignation to the pope. There is little chance of a transfer.
There are non-monetary aspects of the settlement that involve the bishop directly. He will write a letter of apology to each victim and their families when the Chapter 11 is completed; he will speak out in favor of the elimination of statutes of limitations on sex abuse crimes, which he has already done. It is quite likely that the new bishop, whoever he might be, will continue those practices.
Q. What are other non-monetary aspects of the settlement?
A. Those include posting the names of perpetrators on the diocesan web site; for a limited time, one victim at a time may publish his/her story in the Inland Register; the Inland Register will continue to urge victims to come forward; victims may speak at parishes (though not during Mass); the diocese will cease using the modifier “alleged” in terms of victims.
Q. Once the parish has its title: If there is a new situation of abuse, where does the liability fall?
A. Parishes already purchase insurance coverage. The diocese has been insured by Catholic Mutual since 1989. Depending on how reorganization and restructuring occur, there might be greater liability in the future for parishes. If abuse occurs in the parish, there is potential liability.
Q. There has been a failure to communicate about all of this.
A. Part of the lack of communication was the result of the Federal Bankruptcy Judge’s “gag order.” Nevertheless, the secular press reported some information, but often inaccurately, or the information was distorted, which caused hard feelings between the negotiating parties.
Q. Why has there been no explanation that when bishops were making these decisions 30 years ago or more, they were using professional guidance to do so, the best professional information they had at the time? They weren’t doing that blindly, and no one seems to be saying this.
A. True. But in the mock trials before the diocese filed for Chapter 11, that argument was raised. Potential jurors saw that argument as being defensive and dodging responsibility.
Q. What’s being done about proper screening and training of seminarians today?
A. The seminarians receive extensive psychological testing and screening, and evaluations each year. They also have specific training regarding celibacy and boundary issues of sexuality and emotions. The diocese has a very stringent Code of Conduct, updated recently from its original 1990 form. Can we ever stop? No. The best defense is education: of children, of adults.
Q. Children need to be taught how to convince someone, tell someone, when they have been wronged.
A. The diocese has produced and distributed leaflets in English and Spanish addressing this very issue. Those leaflets are still available. Please contact the Communications Office ((509) 358-7340) or the Victims’ Assistance Coordinator, Mary Butler ((509) 353-0442), if you would like more copies.
Q. How can priestly ministry be respected and honored without deifying priests? How can we stand in our own responsibility as adults in the church, so that this never happens again? It is not just in the Church, either; it is throughout society.
A. A more collaborative style of ministry is the future of the Church. Priesthood is a ministry of service, and service is done in collaboration with the laity.
There has been tremendous collaboration already with the laity as the Spokane Diocese situation has progressed. We need to look at participative structures in the church, and do that better than we have in the past.
Q. This whole thing sounds punitive, and the wrong people are being punished. Is there any way to assure help for damaged people?
A. The national experience indicates that some victims are helped by their settlement. Others are not. Certainly this is retributive justice; that is how our system works. The settlements may unblock the way to healing for some, but probably not everybody.
Q. Regarding the healing process: What will happen in the parishes? Will information be distributed? How? Will there be information for fundraising and for healing?
A. Probably efforts for both aspects – fund-raising, healing – will be arranged not unlike the sorts of preparatory and support materials created for the Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA).
Q. We cannot let this drop. What programs are in place now for healing? Something ongoing for victims? Something long-term, down the road – a year, or more, weekly, especially for the churches hit hardest?
A. Spokane’s Center for Organizational Reform (COR) is researching possibilities for workshops aimed at healing organizations that have suffered trauma – not necessarily just for Catholic parishes, but other communities and congregations as well. We will encourage people to attend those workshops. COR also will be available for parishes to hire for individual work. The diocese is not in a position to hire anyone for that sort of work.
Healing and reconciliation are, and will continue to be, huge issues in the Church, said Bishop Skylstad. Some efforts elsewhere have been spotty and perhaps less effective than hoped. The effort will require careful consideration, careful work, and time. He asked that specific suggestions be sent to him.
Q. One of the non-monetary terms of the settlement involves victims coming to speak at parishes, to discuss what’s happened – and rightfully. How will that work?
A. The settlement has a number of non-monetary aspects. One involves victims having the opportunity to tell their story within the Inland Register, the diocesan newspaper. Another allows victims to arrange a time to come to a parish and tell their story, though not during Mass. The Time Bar date encouraged so many victims to come forward. Now we must do our level best to assist and help them.
Q. The bishop, the priests, and the people of God are in need of healing. What are we doing for our priests, deacons, and other ministers who have been hurt, to bring healing into their lives? What are we doing about healing in the lives of the perpetrators?
A. We need to be sensitive to the victims. We also need to remember that the abusers are our brothers and sisters in Christ, who often come from their own brokenness. We are always people of hope. The issue of abuse permeates our culture and our society. How do we deal with a sexual predator? They are the modern-day lepers of our society.
Q. Bishop, have you had any discussion with victims outside a court setting?
A. “Yes,” said Bishop Skylstad. “Unfortunately, one of the side effects of the Chapter 11 has meant that many victims are not allowed to talk to the bishop or to anyone else in the church in terms of sharing their stories.
“Listening to the stories of victims leaves you wanting to weep,” he said. “Some victims have lost their faith; they’re angry at the Church and angry at me and don’t trust anybody. We have to provide an atmosphere of healing. We love them. All I can say is, ‘Please forgive us.’”