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Judge rules that parish assets are available:

A federal bankruptcy judge yesterday ruled that churches and schools in the Catholic Diocese of Spokane are owned by the diocese and can be sold to pay settlements to sex-abuse victims, a decision that evoked both triumph and disappointment.

The decision — the first of its kind in the nation — is considered a victory for victims and a loss for the diocese and its 80-plus parishes, which had argued that the properties belong to individual parishes, not to the diocese, and therefore were not subject to liquidation.

The ruling likely will be watched closely by other dioceses around the country as they, too, resolve claims of people who were sexually abused by priests.

"This is a big victory," said attorney Michael Pfau, who represents many of the plaintiffs in Spokane, where one in five residents is Catholic. "It’s simply a devastating ruling for the diocese."

The diocese plans to appeal by the end of next week.

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