Alaska dioceses would consider filing for bankruptcy over abuse settlements

At this point the three Alaska dioceses say they can cover claims

Posted: Thursday, July 08, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Alaska's Catholic leaders say the cost of sex abuse lawsuits has not reached the point of bankrupting any of the three dioceses in the state, but they say bankruptcy is a legal option they'd consider if they had to.

"At this point our cases are pretty limited. If we had a case that came that was a large claim, we would probably have to (file for bankruptcy)," said Sister Charlotte Davenport, chief of staff for the Archdiocese of Anchorage. "We have few, if any, resources. We would have to seriously consider that."

The archdiocese in Portland, Ore., filed for bankruptcy Tuesday, citing the costs of clergy sex abuse lawsuits.

The Portland archdiocese is the first diocese in the nation to file for bankruptcy, although the Boston archdiocese has threatened to do so and the Tucson, Arizona, diocese is considering the move.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy frees an organization from creditors' lawsuits while it reorganizes. But filing from bankruptcy could open church records to the public.

The Rev. Richard Chase, chancellor for the Diocese of Fairbanks, said the legal claims against the diocese have not progressed far enough to consider bankruptcy.

"We find the story interesting. We, of course, are keeping all options open," Chase said.

Earlier this year, the Fairbanks diocese reported having paid $30,000 to reach a settlement with a plaintiff in a nationwide study of child sex abuse in the church.

Several lawsuits remain against the diocese, including claims by eight Alaska Natives of being sexually abused when they were altar boys decades ago.

Other lawsuits include two women suing the diocese for alleged abuse at the hands of the Rev. James Poole.

The Anchorage archdiocese has spent $22,700 dealing with abuse, mostly on treatment for victims, Archbishop Roger Schwietz said earlier this year.

"We don't have any deep pockets. We pay our bills," said Rev. Donald Bramble, vicar general of the archdiocese.

Robbie Izzard, the Juneau Diocese's director of administrative services, said that diocese also was not considering filing for bankruptcy.

The Juneau Diocese has paid out $1,541, mostly for counseling and medication, according to the information it submitted for the national study earlier this year.

The Catholic Diocese of Juneau recently announced it agreed to pay $175,740 to a former Juneau resident who alleged he was sexually abused by one of its priests more than two decades ago. Money to cover the settlement will come from a contingency fund set up by the diocese, officials said.

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