Deadline nears to file sex abuse claims

Posted: Monday, November 17, 2008

FAIRBANKS - The deadline is approaching for Alaska sex abuse victims to file claims against the Fairbanks Catholic Diocese.

The deadline is Dec. 2 and was imposed when the diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after it was unable to settle with 140 plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs filed claims against the diocese for alleged sexual abuse by priests and church workers. The abuse claims dated from the 1950s to the mid-1980s.

Since the diocese began advertising the upcoming deadline, more than 70 new claimants have come forward alleging sexual abuse by a church associate, Diocesan chancellor Robert Hannon said.

The diocese has run its last ads on Alaska public radio, in newspapers around the state and papers in Seattle; Spokane, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; and USA Today.

Chris Cooke, an attorney with an Anchorage law firm that represents 220 claimants to date, said the claimants who have come forward in the past four or five months have widened the circle of people in areas affected by previously identified chronic abusers.

As the deadline nears, the diocese continues to actively organize its assets and is in mediation with one of the main insurers during the time frame when the abuse took place.

Since litigation began with the first plaintiffs in August 2002 and the first lawsuit against the Fairbanks diocese was filed in 2003, the diocese has spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" on legal fees, Hannon said. "We don't have an accurate figure."

Forty-seven Catholic parishes are located in the sprawling diocese, which encompasses almost a half million square miles from the Alaska Range to the Arctic Ocean, bounded on the east by the Canadian border and on the west by the Bering Sea.

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