Bishop Defends Church Property Transfers
The Bishop for Eastern Oregon Says He Was Complying with Church Law.
By Jeff Barnard
Statesman Journal [Bend OR]
May 8, 2003
BEND - The Roman Catholic bishop for Eastern Oregon testified Wednesday that he planned to transfer millions of dollars in property to individual churches to comply with church law, not to shield the diocese from a sexual-abuse lawsuit brought by former altar boys.
The Most Rev. Robert Vasa, bishop of the Diocese of Baker, acknowledged that he was aware of the sexual-abuse lawsuit and a written confession from a priest when he established individual corporations for each of the 60 parishes and missions within the diocese last year.
Vasa said his intention was to bring the corporate organization of the diocese into compliance with a 1911 directive from the Vatican by giving title for the churches to the parishes and missions that had paid for them. He added that he wanted to duplicate the organization of the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., where he was vicar general before being named bishop of Baker in 1999.
Vasa was called as a witness in Deschutes County Circuit Court by David Slader, attorney for 18 former altar boys claiming they were sexually abused by the late Rev. David Hazen during the 1950s and 1960s, when Hazen was a priest at various churches in the Diocese of Baker.
Their lawsuit seeks $69.3 million in damages, far in excess of the bishop's estimate of diocese assets of $11.5 million and the $6 million the diocese has in cash and potential insurance outside property it wants to transfer to individual churches.
Judge Michael Adler heard the testimony while considering whether to make permanent a temporary restraining order that he imposed last February freezing the assets of the diocese pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
After the daylong hearing, the judge said he would rule as soon as possible, but noted there was a lot of material to consider.
Previously, the diocese was organized as a corporation sole, the form used by most Roman Catholic diocese around the West, in which the bishop has sole control of the assets of the individual parishes and missions.
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