Bishop Says $35 Million Available to Settle Suits
By Nicholas K. Geranios
The Associated Press, carried in Seattle Post-Intelligencer
July 12, 2006
SPOKANE -- The Catholic Diocese of Spokane can raise at least $35 million to divide among victims of sex abuse by priests and may have to ask parishioners to contribute if more money is needed, Bishop William Skylstad said in his latest letter to church members.
But a lawyer for sex-abuse victims said $35 million will not be nearly enough to settle the dozens of lawsuits filed against the diocese.
"In my opinion, he is not in the ballpark," said Duane Rasmussan, attorney for about one-third of the victims. "It'll take his original offer, plus."
Skylstad, who is head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, had originally offered a $45 million settlement to 75 victims, but a federal bankruptcy judge rejected the offer because it did not deal with all the identified victims. There may be 60 to 70 additional victims, lawyers for both sides have said.
"I think the victims are willing to continue on with the struggle," Rasmussan added.
The two sides participated in one day of settlement talks Friday in Reno, Nev., and more talks are scheduled for the week of Aug. 21 in Spokane. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams has told participants not to disclose the content of the talks.
Skylstad's letter, which appeared last week in the diocese's Inland Register newspaper, said the diocese will have just over $20 million from its insurance carriers to offer to victims. The diocese also has about $8 million in assets, much of it real estate that can be sold.
Skylstad also estimated that $7 million can be raised from other Catholic groups.
"If any additional monies are needed for the final settlement, I will have to ask for the financial support of the parishioners," Skylstad wrote. "At this point in time, that amount is unknown, although there is certainly a limit to what parishes can contribute to a feasible final plan."
He did not outline precisely how the earlier offer of $45 million would have been financed, although he mentioned insurance settlements and property sales.
Skylstad said his primary concern remains the victims: "They have been hurt. As we travel this very expensive journey, I hope no one in our diocese will blame the victims."
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