Dialogue 11


Copyright 2007 www.mmorgenstern.com

One writer asks:

What are the real reasons behind the dioceses filing for Chapter 11 protection? Is it all about money?

Father Tom Doyle and I have served as consultants and expert witnesses in civil cases of clergy abuse in all five dioceses that have so far filed for bankruptcy.

Therefore we were required to review the evidence in the abuse cases facing these dioceses involved in that process.  In addition, Tom has served as an expert witness in the bankruptcy proceedings themselves having had to explain how the institutional church owns property.

No diocese states openly that it fears disclosure of scandalous or perhaps criminal behavior contained in documents that any civil trial would expose, but the circumstances provide irrefutable evidence that such is the case. The process of filing for bankruptcy stops all discovery and halts all cases of abuse from going forward.

Is there a possibility that a diocese may go broke and loose everything?

No danger, even remote, of financial disaster exists in any of the dioceses that are appealing for this civil protection. In fact, the proceedings have forced to the surface facts that reveal the dioceses have significant holdings they intentionally covered up, diverted or otherwise underestimated. Between 88 and 95 percent of all the funding for Catholic Charities across the country come from secular and government sources.

The proceedings in the diocese of San Diego are exposing the manipulation of assets and the intrigue surrounding its attempt to justify itself before a federal judge. [Check The San Diego Union Tribune April 2007 by Mark Sauer & Sandi Dolbee] Somehow they overlooked assets of 65 to 400 million dollars. The Federal Judge appointed her own auditor to get the facts straight. The diocese will have to pay for this service.

No diocese has actually declared bankruptcy.  They have all filed for protection.  In every instance each diocese filed for protection shortly before   a civil trial or series of trials for clergy sexual abuse was to start. Every one of those cases would expose some very damning information. 

The Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon has brought its bankruptcy plea to a close with mediation. It has been reported that John Vlazny and the archdiocese have spent more than 16 million dollars on its legal fees for the process.

For example, in Spokane, Washington two weeks before the beginning of a trial, Bishop William Skylstad filed for protection. The scheduled trial would have exposed consistent pattern of covering up for a highly active predator named Patrick O'Donnell.  Skylstad had direct knowledge of his sexual abuse when he was a chancellor and when he was bishop of Yakima and later in Spokane.

In Davenport, Iowa a civil case involving sexual abuse of minor boys against retired Bishop Lawrence Soens was slated to begin.  He had been a high school principal in Davenport before becoming bishop of Sioux City. He allegedly sexually abused a number of boys and a lot of victims claimed they were inappropriately touched.  A score of men were willing to testify to Soens’ misbehavior. Discovery was complete. Depositions with the exception of Tom Doyle’s were already recorded. Literally days before the trial Davenport filed for reorganization. If the trial had proceeded a great deal about the activities of the hierarchy of the diocese would have come to public notice.

In Tucson, Arizona there were 20 cases of sex abuse suites pending in September 2004 when the bishop filed for bankruptcy protection. The diocese admitted that there were 100 credible allegations against 26 priests. (The files of the Sensitive Claims Committee of the diocese listed investigations of 33 priests in 1986) The proceedings were concluded last year. 

Perhaps the most notorious abuser among several in the diocese was Msgr. Robert Trupia. His history of abuse is florid and it was reported in the local press and the Boston Globe.

Some of Trupia’s victims were compensated in a 14 million dollar settlement for 10 victims before Gerald Kicanas took charge of the diocese from the mild mannered Bishop Manuel Moreno. Trupia’s history in the diocese was colorful and intertwined with a coterie of sexually active priests who were well placed in the diocese. He was a special friend of Bishop Francis Green about whom credible allegations of sexual activity with minors have been leveled, but not thoroughly investigated. 

Among the more damaging facts in the Trupia saga was his connection with Bishop James Rausch of Phoenix who was a sexually active homosexual. Prior to his appointment as bishop of Phoenix he was director of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington D.C. In Phoenix, Rausch, disguised as a businessman used to come to Tucson to pick up young males or male prostitutes. Rausch was well connected with prominent Tucson priests who were also sexually active.

Trupia was put on a leave of absence from 1988 until 2004—all the while receiving compensation from the diocese. In the word of Bishop Moreno to the Apostolic Delegate and Vatican, Trupia threatened to “blackmail” the diocese by making a public revelation of Rausch’s sexual activity if the bishop put pressure on him.

Currently reports of homosexually active pastors in the diocese have been alleged, although none are said to be involved with minors. But without doubt the diocese has had a long history of tolerating sexually active priests.

The San Diego California diocese situation is current and clearly volatile.  The diocese including all its real estate is worth at least 1 billion dollars. The last thing San Diego is worried about is running out of money, but the court cases would have revealed explosive information.

Literally hours before the first sex abuse trial was slated to begin, the diocese filed for bankruptcy protection. Again, this maneuver put a stop to all the investigations and the five cases set for trial.

The discovery process for the trials had uncovered a massive amount of very damaging information about former bishop Leo Maher and his close circle of advisors, all of whom except the bishop are the objects of sexual abuse suits.  Bishop Maher had a woman friend / secretary who has already given a lengthy deposition about the diocese prior to placement of the current bishop. 

But even more to the point is the danger of exposing more recent unsolved questions about the diocese’s administration. Bishop Brom came to San Diego under a cloud of a sexual abuse allegation. There are reports that the claims were recanted, but the young man was given a financial package of somewhere between 80 and 120 thousand dollars. Although it has been asserted that the church conducted an investigation of the matter and allegedly cleared Brom, any trial would require that documents pertaining to the allegations be produced and the facts of the interlude no matter how innocuous to be aired.

The press is closely following the bankruptcy proceedings before Federal judges. The final chapter about this phase of the sex abuse crisis has not been written. But civil courts demand a level of transparency and accountability not common to the Catholic Church. The cumulative effect on churches in this regard is likely to be positive.

See also ”God, Incorporated” in the July 2007 edition of San Diego Magazine.

Posted: 12 June 2007

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