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

Federal judge overturns contempt of court citation

Catholic News Service

(From the Oct. 21, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

A federal judge has overturned a contempt of court citation against the Diocese of Spokane in its bankruptcy case arising from clergy sex abuse claims.

U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush’s Oct. 4 decision that a contempt finding by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams in February was “erroneously ordered” saves the diocese and its attorneys $52,000 in fees and costs, according to local news reports.

The diocese has decided to withhold comment on the ruling, saying on Oct. 6 that since Quackenbush “indicated that he plans to issue a written memorandum opinion next week, it is premature for the Diocese of Spokane to offer any further comment at this time.”

The contempt case originated with an e-mail sent by Gregory Arpin, an attorney representing the diocese, to bankruptcy trustee Gloria Nagler of Seattle, who the diocese said had been too liberal in approving claims that the diocese considered not credible.

In the e-mail, Arpin said that if Nagler paid claims that the diocese considered questionable, the diocese reserved the right to recover the funds from Nagler’s personal holdings if they were later overturned. Williams had ruled that the statement amounted to intimidation, but Quackenbush said it was merely part of an attorney’s “zealous and effective advocacy” for a client.

The Diocese of Spokane first filed for bankruptcy in 2004 while facing extensive sexual abuse claims, becoming the third U.S. diocese to do so. Under a $48 million settlement plan approved in 2007, the 176 childhood victims of abuse by priests or other church personnel in the diocese received compensation ranging from $15,000 to $1.5 million, depending on several factors, including the severity of the abuse and whether the statute of limitations had run out before the claim was made.

The diocese reopened its bankruptcy case in 2009 after new allegations of clergy sex abuse surfaced, many of them related to the Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, a residential facility established by Bishop Bernard J. Topel of Spokane in 1956.

In a Sept. 30 message to Spokane Catholics, Bishop Blase J. Cupich, who was installed to head the diocese Sept. 3, disputed reports that the diocese needs another $800,000 to pay future claims.

“This is inaccurate,” he said. “It may be that if future claims are awarded at this level and beyond, that obligation may be forced on us, but at this time, that is not the case.”

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