July 8, PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Several Roman Catholic dioceses being sued for clergy sexual abuse could find themselves following the lead of the Portland Archdiocese, filing for bankruptcy to fight the lawsuits.
Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Diocese of Tucson, Ariz., said it may be the ``best way to respond to all victims.''
Kicanas has met with lawyers for much of the past month to consider filing for bankruptcy, said Fred Allison, spokesman for the Arizona diocese.
Archbishop John Vlazny of the Archdiocese of Portland announced the bankruptcy filing Tuesday, a move that, ``while not unexpected, came as a surprise,'' Kicanas said. Portland was the first archdiocese in the nation to seek Chapter 11 protection.
The bishop did not say whether Tucson will follow Portland, but said ``we continue to explore the best option for our diocese.''
Other dioceses have already settled the lawsuits against them and say they have moved on, with or without the threat of bankruptcy.
The Diocese of Dallas and the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., both faced millions of dollars in lawsuits before they were able to settle the claims.
The Texas diocese received permission from the Vatican in 1997 to file for bankruptcy after a jury awarded nearly $120 million to several victims of one priest, but the victims settled for about $31 million rather than pursue the judgment.
``We got our terrible past behind us,'' said Bronson Havard, diocese spokesman in Dallas.
The Louisville archdiocese settled 243 sex abuse claims for about $26 million last year without resorting to bankruptcy.
``We never seriously considered it,'' said Cecilia Price, archdiocese spokeswoman in Louisville.
In California, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is facing about 540 claims that are in mediation with no discussion of bankruptcy because insurance coverage is expected to take care of any settlements, spokesman Tod Tamberg said.
``But the primary reason we're in mediation is to make sure every legitimate victim of clergy abuse is provided just and equitable compensation, and you're not just paying the first five cases that come along and leaving nothing else for everybody that's left,'' Tamberg said.
In Boston, Archbishop Sean O'Malley promised when he replaced Cardinal Bernard Law last year that he would resolve about 550 abuse lawsuits, which had been hung up in negotiations for months. Law has been widely blamed for allowing the problems in Boston to spread to other dioceses by transferring priests without disclosing the allegations against them.
A $90 million settlement was reached; the archdiocese sold the archbishop's mansion and 43 adjoining acres to Boston College for nearly $100 million to help pay for it.
No figures are available on how many other dioceses may be considering bankruptcy because each of the 195 U.S. dioceses are independent and must consider its own situation, said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.
``It would be relatively few,'' Walsh said.
In a brief sermon Wednesday during morning Mass, the Portland archbishop did not refer directly to the archdiocese's decision to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
But Vlazny said the purpose of the church was to follow the teachings of Christ, including the need to take responsibility for sin in order for it to be forgiven.
``Undoubtedly many heads are bowing in embarrassment and shame today,'' he said. ``But we cannot stay mired in that frustration and that sense of failure.''
Josie Meskill, a longtime parishioner who immigrated from Ireland in 1947, said many of her fellow parishioners were concerned about the sex abuse lawsuits and the bankruptcy, but they try to put it in perspective. Meskill said the Roman Catholic church has survived war, schism, persecution and upheaval ``so this is not the end of the world.''