Forgive us our trespasses, as we rub your nose in them
Yesterday we got in the mail what I hope is the last notice from the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland about its infernal bankruptcy. Now that dozens of victims of sexual abuse by priests (and of coverup) have bitten the bullet and agreed to settle their cases against the church, the archbishop is asking all the parishioners in western Oregon to please not object to the final bankruptcy plan. That plan will pay off most of the current plaintiffs and prevent other victims of long-past abuse from coming forward with more claims for money damages, and it will keep out of the public eye a lot of the details of the deplorable conduct in which Portland-area priests engaged, and which their superiors covered up, over many decades.
The reason everybody in the pews is getting the notice is because the church tried to duck out of its responsibility to the sexual abuse victims by arguing that all the church property in the archdiocese's name really isn't the archdiocese's. According to the weaselly church lawyers, under "canon law" (which they're now calling "ecclesiastical law"), the real property belongs to the various individual parishes, even though title is in the archbishop. This theory was news to just about everybody in the congregation, but hey, it served the church's purposes. And so they made every Catholic in the archdiocese a defendant to the sexual abuses lawsuits, unless the parishioners opted out -- which, after a lot of thought and prayer, our family did.
What did the archdiocese get by declaring bankruptcy? It got most of the victims' cases settled -- and its insurance companies to cough up a chunk of dough toward paying them off -- and above all, it avoided public trials about most of the sexual abuse claims. Oh, there were one or two claims that were aired out in a courtroom -- tales of all sorts of grab-a*s being played by the priests with the altar boys -- but they were quickly settled before the gory details of any of the others were aired out.
For this fine service, the church has paid its bankruptcy lawyers more than $10 million -- probably way more, although a final tally has not yet been published. Did it save that much out of pocket in paying off the claimants and collecting on insurance? I doubt it. If the archbishop got anything for those eight figures, it was keeping details out of the media.
It's been an awful, awful moment in church history, and the latest notice keeps the extreme darkness coming. The sexual abuse victims are now sanitized down to being "tort claimants." Touted as a big part of the settlement is the fact that the church is now finally going to get its legal affairs in order so that in the future it can claim that each parish owns its own property. As if this self-serving activity is somehow supposed to be a victory for justice. And of course, there's no indication that the people in the pews are going to get anything new to say about what happens to church assets. For all we know, the new "charitable trusts, endowments, non-profit religious corporations, or other charitable entities" that are going to be formed will all be under the direct control of the archbishop. Nothing in the bankruptcy plan appears to change that. Meet the new boss -- same as the old boss.
The church will borrow a bunch of money from the Allied Irish Bank to pay $40 million in damages out of its own pocket. Another $52 million in damages will be taken care of by the archdiocese's insurance companies. No operating property of the church will be sold -- just mortgaged. Forty million of mortgage on property worth an estimated half-billion. Should have been done long ago.
As far as this notice informs us, there's nothing in the final plan about reforming the way the church handles sexual abuse claims. Nothing in there about changing the way priests and other church personnel interact with young people. Sure, the archdiocese has made strides in these areas, but apparently the final bankruptcy plan will do nothing to prevent its backsliding.
And then the piece de resistance -- it concerns the parishioners' chance to find out more, make comments to church officials, and ask questions, about the bankruptcy plan. Why, the notice says there are meetings scheduled for all that, sure. But space is going to be limited, so please appoint someone from your parish to come. Please don't show up yourself. Oh, and don't bring your reporter friends -- the press is barred.
The meeting for the entire Portland area will be one night at some church in Milwaukie. Other than that, you'll have to drive to Eugene or Grants Pass.
But here's the best part: The notice, which we received yesterday, states that the meeting in the Portland area will be held on Thursday night, March 22.
They're having confessions this week around town for us Catholics. I guess I'd better go, because, try as I might, I can't forgive this. All I feel is shame, and it just goes deeper and deeper.